Atom-scale building blocks that have been compared to microscopic Lego are allowing researchers to play with the properties of common materials, and the possibilities are so great that it could keep scientists busy for the next 50 years. From the Stone Age to Silicon Valley, materials have defined the technological capabilities of civilisations.
Professor Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in the UK is well acquainted with the toolbox available today. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for extending it with an exotic form of carbon known as graphene.
Unlike materials sourced from nature, graphene is a creation of science. It is peeled off graphite in honeycomb motifs as thin as a single atom. The quantum laws prevailing at these tiny scales cause electrons to move through graphene in unusual ways. ‘Graphene can be stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and as transparent as glass,’ said Prof. Geim. ‘It is unlike any substance found in nature.’……more