To chemists, carbon is just carbon. But graphene, the ultrathin material whose strength, flexibility, and high conductivity is promising for electronics, is one of the more costly forms of the element. High quality graphene is commonly made by growing it from expensive, pure carbon-containing gases inside a reaction chamber. In a paper published online in the journal ACS Nano, chemists at Rice University describe using dirty, cheap sources of carbon instead, including insects, plastic, and dog excrement. They even invited a troop of Girl Scouts into the lab to make some graphene from cookies, as seen in the video below:
Last week another TR editor and I were talking about how we didn’t know about engineering careers when we were kids. It melts my heart to see these girls visiting the labs established by Richard Smalley, one of the discoverers of fullerenes, the class of carbon materials that includes nanotubes and graphene. One box of cookies, they learned, can be made into $15 billion worth of graphene.
Perhaps the Girl Scouts organization should make a nanotech badge that looks like a buckyball?