One of the Strongest Substances Known to Man

The Structure and Uses of Graphene

Durability is a popular subject within Science, and it’s clear to see why. Discovering new properties that allow for greater resilience can be applied to many different areas of our lives. Some of these are incredibly common, whilst others are very rare, when deciding how useful and applicable a strong material is, we must take this into account. In the recent years, a very versatile and applicable substance has been created in the depths of scientist basements, this wonderful material is known as Graphene.

Perhaps one of the most obvious application is use for defence and protection, but this can also apply to tools, measuring equipment and transport. According to the work of Kokcharov in the piece ‘Strength of Structural Materials’ , there are 5 means of measuring strength of a structure -yield strength, tensile strength, fatigue strength, crack resistance, and other characteristics. However, in the interest of simplicity within the article, we will attempt to base strength off of the Vickers hardness test (or GPA). Depending on the 'form' of the structure, it can vary in its properties.

Graphene is a particularly versatile material (200x stronger than steel) with a GPA of 130. Graphene has been initially viewed under electron microscopes as long ago as 1962, although during this time Graphene was only studies under metal surfaces, in 2004 Graphene was later examined more intensely and as a stand alone property by Andre Geim and Konstantin .

Essentially, Graphene is made of of a one - layer thick tightly packet sheet of carbon,when ‘stacked’, Graphene becomes Graphite, you can imagine how strong that stuff is. However, it is important to note that additional layers do restrict flexibility, which answers as to why Graphite isn't more widely used. As pictured to the right, graphene has a structure which is typically hexagonal, producing the strongest variant whilst still maintaining flexibility, this structure is generally referred to as a 'honeycomb' or hexagonal lattice.

So, what does this mean for real world application? Thankfully, aside from being astoundingly durable, Graphene also works as an excellent conductor for electricity. This means it can be very beneficial for use within electrical systems, and possesses a very flexible and clear structure, making it easily malleable.

Of course, we can't talk about an astoundingly resilient material without checking out what bullets do to it. Back in 2014 Jae-Hwang Lee et al found that shooting gold bearings 3x the speed of standard assault rifle velocity result in minute cracks within the one layer thick sheet. Naturally, adding extra layers and turning it into Graphite minimize these cracks. Interestingly, the study also found that the bullet is potentially slowed and 'weakened' before making contact with the graphene as sound waves travel at 3x through graphene than they do through steel, resulting in material beyond the graphene absorbing the energy.

It's even started moving into the more commercial market, with printer powder imbued with graphene (known as Graphenite) being released for sale back in 2015. In addition to this, graphene has been applied to braking systems within large vehicles including trucks, using a graphene based supercapacitor.

We can see that Graphene is some very versatile stuff, and it's important to note how old some of the data this article draws from. However, it is still a relevant topic within the current generation. Each year, there is a Graphene conference held in a different venue to discuss the current technological progressions using Graphene. Furthermore, in April 2017 a Graphene based sieve to convert sea water into drinkable tap water was created by Nair and colleagues at the University of Manchester.

Baring this in mind, it's clear Graphene is here to stay for a while.


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