Graphene: Material of the Future


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Three pairs of images are shown, each composed of a photo and a diagram. In the first pair, the photo shows a close-up view of a colorless, multi-faceted crystal and the diagram shows many gray spheres bonded together in a net-like structure. The caption below this pair reads “diamond.” In the second pair, the photo shows a rough textured, dark gray solid while the image shows four horizontal sheets, composed of interlocking black spheres, lying atop one another. This pair has a caption that reads “graphite.” The third pair shows a photo of twelve black hexagons on a yellow background where two of the hexagons are encircled by a gray border and a caption of “1.4 times 10, superscript negative 10, m, Distance between center of atoms” and an image of many black hexagons evenly arranged on a yellow background. The caption below this pair of images reads “Graphite surface.”
Figure 1. Diamond is extremely hard because of the strong bonding between carbon atoms in all directions. Graphite (in pencil lead) rubs off onto paper due to the weak attractions between the carbon layers. An image of a graphite surface shows the distance between the centers of adjacent carbon atoms. (credit left photo: modification of work by Steve Jurvetson; credit middle photo: modification of work by United States Geological Survey)

Graphene: Material of the Future (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

Carbon is an essential element in our world. The unique properties of carbon atoms allow the existence of carbon-based life forms such as ourselves. Carbon forms a huge variety of substances that we use on a daily basis, including those shown in Figure 1. You may be familiar with diamond and graphite, the two most common allotropes of carbon. (Allotropes are different structural forms of the same element.) Diamond is one of the hardest-known substances, whereas graphite is soft enough to be used as pencil lead. These very different properties stem from the different arrangements of the carbon atoms in the different allotropes.

You may be less familiar with a recently discovered form of carbon: graphene. Graphene was first isolated in 2004 by using tape to peel off thinner and thinner layers from graphite. It is essentially a single sheet (one atom thick) of graphite. Graphene, illustrated in Figure 2, is not only strong and lightweight, but it is also an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. These properties may prove very useful in a wide range of applications, such as vastly improved computer chips and circuits, better batteries and solar cells, and stronger and lighter structural materials. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their pioneering work with graphene.

Four images are shown. In the upper image, labeled “Graphene sheet,” a box is drawn around a sheet of interconnected hexagonal rings. In the lower left image, a sphere is composed of hexagonal rings linked together and is labeled “Buckyball.” In the lower middle image, a tube is shown that is composed of many hexagonal rings joined together and is labeled “Nanotube.” In the lower right image, four horizontal sheets composed of joined, hexagonal rings is shown and labeled “Stacked sheets.”
Figure 2. Graphene sheets can be formed into buckyballs, nanotubes, and stacked layers. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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