Here is the full transcript of Mikael Fogelström’s TEDx Talk on Graphene Science at TEDxGöteborg conference.
New materials have always been a bearer of new technologies and subsequent societal development and advances. The most simple examples we go back in history and think about the Stone Age which developed into the Bronze Age and then it went on into the Iron Age. And each Age is labeled by the material that was bearing the new technology or the new society as a whole.
And every new material was better than its predecessor and it also made life simpler for the people of that age. I think in the beginning it made life bearable just to exist and that’s it. And this is the way it has gone on in our society and still today we always have new technologies that come with the introduction of new materials or substances.
There’s a new development that has come only in the latest decades or so and that is the ability of using basic sciences like physics, chemistry combined with material science and we are able now to atom-by-atom design new materials with designer functionalities.
And today I’ll talk about the ultimate material which is actually not designed but it has been there all the time. And you see a picture of it and you have been playing with it since you started to use a pen and doing the calligraphy that we just heard about.
So it’s all about one layer of atoms and it’s known as graphene. And this is what I’ll try to spend a couple of minutes of your time to explain.
Graphene is amazing; it’s the material of superlatives; it’s best in everything. This is what we are told. Of course, these days this is a truth with modification and it’s a truth that has to be verified but still today when we think about it it’s only one atom thick or thin, how you want to put it. And this is a material which theorists like I have said this is impossible. Any thermo-dynamical fluctuations will curl it up and you know when you’re in a hurry and you take your glad pack and want to cover something and it all curls up. This is how it should behave.
But then these guys in Manchester and the Guymon Coast and over Salem said ok this is impossible, let prove them wrong, and just 10 years ago they published results showing that you could actually make useful things and address this single layer of atoms. This material is the strongest material we know; it’s stronger than diamonds. Diamond isn’t stable; it will fall into graphene if you just excite with a little bit of energy over a threshold, so graphene or graphite is actually the stable form of carbon. And being the strongest it’s still flexible.
And now being the strongest, one wonders what would you do, but if I had a hammock of graphene here then I could put the baby and it would rest in thin air in your eyes. It’s not that I could put a truck but a 4 kilo newborn child. It’s another issue with — another property which is nice and that it has a width, a length but it has no height so it’s only surface. So you can address it all over. So you have this big sheet which you can work with.
And then it’s strange in that sense that I can put any material substance on top of it and it won’t lap it through. It’s impermeable to other elements and substances.
And being so thin if you take the amount corresponding to a bite of a Snickers bar, that’s 10 grams roughly, you would cover three fields of three football fields of graphene. We made a calculation — I’ll talk about it going into electronics. If you take 15 kilograms you cover all the displays — computer displays, iPads, whatever with graphene. It’s something that I could carry along that’s the world production.
It has other properties. It’s the best thermal conductor. It carries heat extremely well. It’s one of the best electrical conductors. It carries charge extremely well. And on top of this it’s transparent, so it lets light through.
And what one has seen is with all these superlative properties you can probably make quite a lot of interesting things out of it. And this is what I’m going to try to dwell on a little giving you some examples and also showing a little bit what me and my colleagues are doing up at Chalmers nowadays.
But first, I thought I’ll give you a crash course in science and if you take the picture here to my left, you see a chicken wire with black spots in the apexis where the lines meet, that’s the carbon atoms. And they organize like this by themselves and the reason why they do that is carbon has the possibility of making a lot of different compounds and it has four electrons in its outer shell which are responsible of this. It’s very easy with these nice blobs that I have shown here.
What happens is three of them will fall in a plane, make something that chemists would tell you it’s sp2 hybridization and the neighboring carbon atoms want to share electrons with it each other and they do this very well, it’s a covalent bond, it’s called and this bond is extremely strong. This will make graphene the strongest and also flexible material that you have. So the chemical properties comes from this simple electron bonding.