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Checking in on Graphene and the Materials Revolution

A twist in two sheets of graphene is one of recent developments to note. Plus, super spider silk.

Graphene was first discovered when physicists peeled the top layer of atoms off of graphite. The discovery was revolutionary as the tessellated substance demonstrated extreme levels of conductivity, flexibility and similarly abilities to store electricity (Just to give you some quick specs, it’s harder than diamonds, 300x stronger than steel, transparent, and a better conductor than copper by about 1,000x).

Then, in 2018, Yuan Cao, a graduate student at MIT, stacked a pair of graphene sheets, cooled them down to absolute zero and then twisted them to a 1.1-degree angle to each other. After adding voltage, the Cao and his team saw that they had a super-conductor on their hands.

Here is an excerpt from their paper in Nature: The International Journal of Science:

The relatively high superconducting critical temperature of twisted bilayer graphene, given such a small Fermi surface (which corresponds to a carrier density of about 1011 per square centimetre)[the reciprocal space between occupied and unoccupied electrons], puts it among the superconductors with the strongest pairing strength between electrons. Twisted bilayer graphene is a precisely tunable, purely carbon-based, two-dimensional superconductor.

This “magic -angle” graphene has since been replicated by other teams and these stacked graphene sheets are actually easy to produce, which is causing a lot of work to be done to bring graphene to market and tinker with its potential by poking holes in its 2D surface and texturing it at the nanoscale level beyond the “twistronics” tried by MIT.

A Collection of Recent Graphene Uses

Chinese company, Dongxu Optoelectronics, announced a graphene supercapacitor with the capacity of a typical laptop battery that could charge up in 15 minutes compared to the standard few hours. Meanwhile, in Europe, Barcelona’s Earthdas used graphene to create supercapacitors for electric bicycles and motorcycles with ultra-fast charging capabilities. Heading to France, NAWAShell have plans to build carbon-based supercapacitors into the actual objects that require charging like vehicles or electronics. This would lead to a battery-less car.

Most interestingly, a group of researchers from Tsinghua University fed silkworms mulberry leaves coated in a solution made up with 0.2 per cent of carbon nanotubes or graphene, reports the Scientific American. The silk collected showed traces of nanomaterials along with the worm’s excrement. Most importantly, it tested to be twice as strong and could withstand temperatures up to 1,050°C.

All of these moves show a similar theme, graphene
allows engineers to make the actual object part of the transisitor. For
example, rather than our clothing have a power source embedded with electronics,
graphene could make the cotton within the garment the actual electronic power
source for wearables or other technology. However, one of the biggest problem with
graphene is actually getting quality graphene. Many physicists are claiming
that they were promised graphene and instead got pencil lead. So, while we are closer to a new and amazing material, there is still a long way to go.