Graphene is one of the crystalline forms of carbon, others being diamond, graphite and the fullerene family. In its essence graphene is a two dimensional layer of hexagonal carbon atoms. Stacking many layers of graphene on top of each other gives the structure of graphite. Although the structure of graphite and graphene has been known for decades, graphene has recently re-emerged into scientific focus. After isolation and confirmation of its predicted and extraordinary properties, in 2010 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for research on graphene nanostructure.
Graphene is a very light and almost transparent material with a density of only 0.77 mg per square meter. Although it is only one atom layer thick, it is very strong and thermally stable. Carbon bonds in graphene are so strong that they can endure pressure of 130 giga-Pascals, which makes graphene the strongest material ever discovered. Even more surprising is that it also possesses good elastic properties.
Next to all these extreme characteristics, graphene is a zero-overlap semimetal with very high electrical conductivity. In graphene both holes and electrons act as charge carriers and have zero effective mass, which gives the material excellent electrical and thermal conductivity.
Most of its unique and novel properties arise from its inherently two-dimensional structure. Hexagonal carbon basis is something graphene shares with other carbon forms. The structure of graphene is very similar to that of carbon nanotubes, which could be regarded as graphene sheets rolled in a cylinder formation. Both are made of the same sp2 carbon bonds and they share interesting properties. Similar to graphene, carbon nanotubes have excellent mechanical, electrical and thermal properties.
Current research and potential applications of both graphene and its three-dimensional relative carbon nanotubes include nanotechnology (controlling other structures), electrical engineering (as an important component of integrated circuits and transistors), energy production (increasing efficiency of solar cells) and many others. Carbon is frequently mentioned as the new best answer for issues in various technological fields, from hydrogen fuel storage to optical modulators and biodevices. Some current research projects on carbon nanomaterials are still far from application, but they clearly show what will be the future directions of material science.
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