Science & Technology

A Material 200 times stronger than steel, 1000 times lighter than paper

Yes, you read it right. There’s a material which is 200 times stronger than steel and at the same time 1000 times lighter than paper. Science is so fascinating until we have to give its exam! Let’s see what this incredible material is. Graphene is its name. It is stronger than diamond (the hardest naturally occurring material). It is believed to be the strongest material yet discovered.

What is Graphene?

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon (just like diamond), consisting of a single layer of atoms arranged in two-dimensional honeycomb lattice.
But Graphene is much different than diamond even though both are allotropes of Carbon. The reason being, different arrangement of Carbon atoms.
In a diamond, the carbon atoms are arranged tetrahedrally. Each carbon atom is attached to four other carbon atoms with a C-C-C bond angle of 109.5 degrees. It is a strong, rigid three-dimensional structure that results in an infinite network of atoms.
Whereas, Graphene is a single layer of graphite. In other words, the atoms in graphene are laid out flat, like billiard balls on a table. Just like in graphite, each layer of graphene is made of hexagonal “rings” of carbon , giving a honeycomb-like appearance. Since the layers themselves are just one atom high, you’d need a stack of about three million of these layers to make graphene 1mm thick!

Why Is Graphene a Supermaterial?

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel
  • Graphene is a material 200 times stronger than steel by weight.
  • Its most dynamic property is that its remarkably thin. It is 1,000 times lighter than paper.
  • It is 98 percent transparent.
  • It conducts electricity better than any other known material at room temperature. This can be used to produce more efficient batteries.
  • In spite of being the hardest material, it’s also really flexible. This property can be used in rollerball computers and flexible phones.
  • It can convert light at any wavelength into a current.
  • And, last but not least, graphene is made from carbon, the fourth most-abundant element in the universe, so we’re not likely to run out.

Also read: What is one thing which could improve your sleep quality & productivity?

In 2010, Geim and Novoselov shared the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering graphene. And researchers around the world began finding ways to use this remarkable ‘supermaterial’ to build more powerful and longer-lasting batteries, faster microchips, flexible circuitry, implantable biosensors and more. But even a decade later, graphene has yet to deliver on its much-hyped promises, but insiders are confident that we’ll finally be seeing many technological advances based on graphene in the next few years. [1]

Why hasn’t Graphene taken over the world yet?

There are two main reasons: Money & Research.
According to liberum analyst Yuen Low, “At the moment, one gram of graphene is estimated to cost around US$100. With things like this, commercialisation takes years. It’ll spend years in the lab and then years in trials and scale-up and so on.” Also, it’s highly conductive and flammable making it dangerous for industrial purposes. It is 1,000 times more conductive than silicon!
Currently it is very difficult and expensive to produce this incredible, stronger than steel material, in large amounts that has no defects or faults in its atomic structure. Research is still needed to understand graphene better.

Fun fact: If you have ever drawn with a pencil, you’ve probably made graphene!

This video by Verge Science explains it in detail:

[1] Graphene: 200 Times Stronger Than Steel, 1,000 Times Lighter Than Paper