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By Sarah Cruddas on

What Next for the ‘Wonder Stuff’?

Graphene has been subjected to a great deal of hype its whole life. What effect has this had?

Please note: Wonder Materials ended on 25 June 2017. To find out what exhibitions and activities are open today, visit our What’s On section

Picture of Haydale's characterisation suite
Haydale’s characterisation suite

From bendable phones to bionic devices, and from tennis racquets to helping to dispose of nuclear waste, the promise of this ‘wonder stuff’ to deliver a utopian science fiction future is clear.

However, hype isn’t always a good thing. When a thing of science is hyped to the extent that graphene has been, it can lead to misunderstanding about its potential. And, no matter how promising it is, it may still fall short of expectations, leading to confusion about what it can actually do.

Graphene is super strong, far more conductive than copper and yet, most mind boggling of all, it is only one atom thick, making it a two-dimensional material. But in the 12 short years since it was first isolated in Manchester by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, it hasn’t yet lived up to the hype.

Picture of Andre Geim and Kostya Novosolev in a lab
Kostya Novosolev and Andre Geim

However, that doesn’t mean that graphene isn’t still a thing of wonder and that it doesn’t have the potential to change our world in ways we haven’t yet imagined. Just as exciting is the knowledge that graphene isn’t a ‘one-off’. In fact, there are a whole range of 2D materials with exciting properties (albeit with slightly less catchy names), such as graphene oxide, molybdenum disulphide and boron nitride to name but a few!

As headline sponsors of Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond, Haydale are proud to be showcasing the possibilities of graphene and other 2D materials in a considered, exciting and concise way.

Haydale work not only with graphene but many other 2D materials. However, rather than producing these materials themselves, Haydale are instead working to add properties from graphene and its counterparts to existing materials. This is done by a process known as functionalisation. This means the surface chemistry of a material can be modified, which enables it to interact with other materials. By functionalising graphene and other 2D materials, you can increase properties such as conductivity and resistance to fit the needs of an existing product.

Picture of Haydale's clean functionalisation area
Haydale’s clean functionalisation area

This is where the next step for graphene lies. Not in science fiction, but in something slightly more mundane. However, this is also something that can help graphene transform from a ‘thing’ of science to a ‘thing’ of business. By adding graphene to existing materials and enhancing their properties, we can improve everything from the humble shower tray, making it lighter and stronger, to the technology of the future for race cars, drones, aviation and even space exploration.

Translating graphene from the lab to business will in turn help to drive forward innovation, because once money is made from a product, this can be reinvested in the technology needed to further innovation. It is still possible that one day we could get all the science fiction promises made by graphene, as well as many other things we haven’t yet imagined.

However, the first thing to do is to concentrate on the everyday.

Should graphene succeed, it won’t be an overnight explosion of a new ‘thing’. Instead, just as with the mobile phone, the changes will be slow. But one day, we will live in a world where we take the benefits of graphene and other 2D materials for granted, just as we do now with the mobile phones we once marvelled at.

Kostya Novosolev and Andre Geim image credit: Copyright – Nobel Media AB; Photo – Yana Audas

Haydale image credits: Haydale

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