What is Graphene?
This illustration shows the atomic structure of graphene. Each dot is a single carbon atom. (This image by James Hedberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)
Answer from Paul Thibado, professor of physics:
Graphene is a new material that consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. This exceptional metal is transparent, 200 times stronger than steel, and capable of carrying heat away 10 times more efficiently than copper. Graphene is also extremely flexible, allowing it to be folded without breaking.
This image of graphene shows its individual atoms. It was taken by a scanning tunneling microscope in Thibado’s lab.
Not surprisingly, the search is on for applications aimed at exploiting these very desirable properties. One of the first such applications has been the use of graphene to cool devices prone to failure when operated at sustained high temperatures. Thus, using graphene to draw heat away from the active part of a device extends its operating life. Another application in current development is a flexible touch screen fabricated from graphene, which may (for example) make possible a digital newspaper that could be folded and tucked into a pocket.
From a basic physics perspective, graphene’s remarkable properties enable scientists to test the laws of physics. For example, when electrons migrate through graphene, they move as if they have no mass, similar to the way light moves through an optical pipe. Researchers are trying to discover if it is possible to regulate the flow of electrons in graphene using optical interference effects, rather than stopping and restarting the movement of electrons, with the potential application of making devices faster while consuming less power.
Professor of Physics
Professor Thibado‘s primary research interests are to study the physical properties of novel two-dimensional systems, including pristine freestanding graphene and chemically-functionalized graphene. Specific interests are the electronic, mechanical, electromechanical, spin-dependent tunneling, and transport properties. To achieve this, he has developed state-of-the-art tools for atomic-scale characterization.