What makes graphs so strong

The material of the future : Graphene, a wonder material with pitfalls

It is one of the great research projects in Europe. “Graphene-CA” aims to convert graphene into ready-to-use products. The European Commission plans to provide up to one billion euros in funding for this. A very courageous decision, because it is not yet clear whether the theoretical possibilities of the “miracle material” can be realized on a large scale. The money goes to the “Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship Initiative”.

Research groups and companies in several European countries are participating in the project. It is coordinated by the physicist Jari Kinaret, who works at Chalmers University in Gothenburg. Graphene has many properties that make you sit up and take notice. It conducts electricity far better than conventional semiconductors. It is transparent, so it is suitable for screens and solar cells. And it has excellent thermal conductivity. On top of that, the miracle material is extremely strong and thus arouses hopes for stable composite materials in cars and airplanes.

Graphene is a special form of carbon. Its structure resembles a chain link fence. The carbon atoms lie in one plane and are connected to one another, forming a network of hexagonal honeycombs, a kind of foil made up of just one atomic layer. The material is flexible and at the same time more tear-resistant than steel. Theoretically, electrical charges move 100 times faster in graphs than in silicon, the basic material of integrated circuits in today's computers. It is this property in particular that makes graph the subject of bold visions.

The most important components of the computer are transistors. They switch and amplify the electrical signals in the machine. Usually they consist of a piece of semiconductor with three electrical connections. A current flows between two of them. How strong it is depends on the electrical voltage at the third connection. By changing them, you can make the transistor weakly or strongly conductive, ie switch between “zero” and “one”.

The computing power of a computer depends on how fast the electrical charges move through its transistors. In order to increase this speed, the transistors are made smaller and smaller so that the charges have to travel shorter distances. In the meantime, however, it is hardly possible to shrink the components any further. Apparently the limit will be reached soon. This is where the graph comes in. Because it conducts electrical signals much faster than silicon, it can be used to construct faster switching elements.

However, the extremely thin graph is difficult to handle. And in order to even integrate it into industrial processes, you have to manufacture it in large quantities. “There are many methods for producing graphene,” says Klaus Müllen, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz. “It can be obtained from the carbon form graphite by peeling it off layer by layer; however, the results are not particularly easy to reproduce. "

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