Graphene: Size Zero Allotrope
Carbon is the atom on which the life on the earth is based. Though it is not a complicated element having only 6 atomic number, it ability to form compounds with hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur and host of other atoms and its ability for catenation makes it the most distinguished element for us. We owe our existence to it. Most of the macromolecules which are bodies are composed of contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
This simple element show another very surprising properties. One of them is the allotropy. Two allotrope are two different arrangements in which an element can exist. Till 2004, two allotropes of carbon, diamond and graphite were recognized. A simple change in the way atoms are arranged geometrically can drastically alter their properties.
Diamond is network of tetrahedrons in which each carbon is joined with 4 other carbon atoms and so on. This forms a network which is the hardest material in the world. It sparkles in the light as the light is refracted at so many faces and unable to escape.
Graphite on the other hand is the form in which carbon atoms form honeycomb structures of hexagons joined to each other in the layers. The attraction between layers is not much and layers can slip over one another giving it a lubrication ability. Since there are are free electrons between the layers on each carbon, they form a tunnel in which electrons can move. Thus graphite also conducts electricity.
Now comes the Graphene. If you peel each layer, you have a two dimensional material which is thinnest material in the world. It is only 1 carbon atom thick and but at the same time it is the strongest material in the world, 100 times stronger than the steel.
Only limitation presently is its manufacture on commercial level in the purest form because contamination of even in single alien atom can spoil all the properties.
So many uses are already envisaged for this material. Since it conducts electricity better than any other material and unbreakable and very thin, future cellphones and other electronic touch screen gadgets shall be made from this. These shall be very thin, would not break on falling and could be folded to suit the pockets.
Another use shall be in the bionic devices because it is flexible and highly resistant to the corrosion caused by electrolytes present in the cells of human beings. These devices can be inserted at any place for many years without worrying for replacement.
At present scientists are trying to explore methods of making it on commercial scale. May be some genius like Kary Mullis device something like Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to multiply it million folds from a single copy. Nothing is impossible.