A View from David Zax
With Graphene, a Smart Snap Bracelet?
A billion euros’ worth of continental love for the up-and-coming “wonder material.”
What if your device could do this?
This wild vision of a morphing, versatile, snap-bracelet-slash-tablet-slash-all-purpose-smart-thing is made possible–or at least thinkable–by the graphene, a so-called “wonder material” discovered in 2004.
The European Commission today announced one billion Euros in funding for research into applications of graphene. Over 100 research groups will receive funding in an initiative led by Jari Kinaret, applied physicist and apparent fencing enthusiast.
What’s graphene? For a crash course in the material, look no further than TR’s own pages. Graphene is pretty simple to comprehend: it’s an atom-thick sheet of carbon, arrayed like a honeycomb. Graphene is seen as a potential replacement for silicon, since it conducts electrons even faster. Recent years have seen researchers employing various types of chemical wizardry to improve processes of creating bulk graphene (see “From the Labs: Materials”). Graphene holds immense promise, with an array of strange, wondrous features and applications–it could make more sensitive sensors and ultrafast switches; it could be the material underlying novel battery tech; it’s apparently self-healing; researching it will win you the Nobel prize. (You can imagine the marketing slogans: Women want it; men want to be it; it’s fun for the whole family; things will never be the same!) Even the European Commission’s calling it a “wonder material.”
Here’s a video highlighting some of the excitement around graphene:
The European Commission thinks that graphene has the potential to be as important as steel or plastics; it even goes so far as to suggest that what plastics were to the 20th century, graphene could be for the 21st. The EC further points out some of its favorite things about graphene: that it’s the thinnest material, that it conducts electricity better than copper and is 100-300 times stronger than steel, and that it has “unique optical properties.”
A video from the now-flush Graphene Flagship project site gives a helpful introduction to the material’s discovery and the range of industries it could transform: consumer electronics, solar, communications, transportation, energy storage… the list goes on.
And of course–returning to that video from Nokia and Cambridge at the top of this post–graphene could revitalize old products we thought were dead for good. I knew the snap bracelet was just waiting for a chance to come back, smarter than ever.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today