Graphene research

Graphene is a true wonder material.  It has higher conductivity than copper.  It’s almost completely transparent.  It’s flexible.  It can be made in 30 inch diagonal sheets.  It’s one atom thick.

Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, in the University of Manchester, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for a discovery first published in 2005.  It was not so much the discovery of isolated graphene sheets that were the big deal, but more the identification of the potential of graphene.

Surface scientists have long used graphite as a substrate for device calibration and also as an inert substrate.  The way we prepare it is to cleave it with Sellotape (or Scotch tape, if you’re reading from the USA).  Geim and Novoselov isolated graphene by then dissolving the tape in a solvent and painstakingly examining the remaining carbon flakes under a microscope.  Eventually, they found some single layer material and graphene was born.

Less than a decade later, there are thousands of patents granted every year on graphene applications.  There are thousands of academic publications devoted to understanding the potential of graphene.  My small contribution so far, working with Jongweon Cho, Nathan Guisinger and Jeffrey Guest in Argonne National Laboratory, has been to show that graphene can electronically (and geometrically) isolate molecules from a substrate while still providing electrical conduction to them.  To clarify (hopefully): graphene provides an electrical contact to molecules adsorbed on it without perturbing their molecular orbitals.  Since it’s the orbitals that provide the semiconducting behaviour, this is crucial for future applications in molecular electronics.

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