It’s hard for us all to keep up with new technologies. So we shouldn’t feel bad when a new material seems to have popped up from nowhere and is so significant that you feel like you should have known about it all along. I think graphene is one example.
Firstly, where did it come from?
Well, waaay back in 2004 Russian scientists Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov first isolated graphene.
Then in 2010, two blokes at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material, graphene”. They’d been working on something so significant that their science peers thought a Nobel Prize was in order.
So, what is it? And, why is it so special?
Graphene is one of the crystalline forms of carbon, alongside diamond and graphite, amongst other things. In this material, carbon atoms are arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern (as per the picture above). It can also be described as a one-atom layer of the layered mineral graphite.
All sounds a bit boring right? Maybe. Until you learn what it can do.
It has been described as a ‘wonder material’ with ‘limitless’ potential. Graphene is almost a million times thinner than human hair and harder than diamond. Some claim it’s the world’s strongest known material; it’s completely flexible and it’s more conductive than copper. Since being discovered, more than 7,500 graphene-based patents have been registered worldwide for everything from smartphones to computer chips. And its uses are incredible.
As a computer processing conductor, it’ll make silicon look pre-historic. For example, they believe that it will be able to upload a terabit of data in just one second.
As battery material, it’s incredible. You could have your phone fully charged from empty in 5 seconds.
It could help clean up radioactive waste like the water near Fukushima. Graphene-oxide could potentially clump together radioactive waste to separate it from water, hence making its disposal relatively easy.
Head tennis racquets are being developed which use graphene in the head and grip, to make them extraordinarily more powerful and effective.
The clever people at MIT have a plan for a graphene filter covered in tiny holes just big enough to let water through, but small enough to keep salt out, making salt water safe for consumption.
Touchscreens that use graphene as their conductor could be slapped onto plastic rather than glass. That would mean super thin, unbreakable touchscreens and you’d never have to worry about shattering your iPhone screen again.
Just a single sheet of graphene could produce headphones that have a frequency response comparable to a pair of Sennheisers. The folks at Berkely are working on this.
High-powered graphene super capacitors would make batteries almost obsolete.
Graphene could pave the way for bionic devices in living tissues that could be connected directly to your neurons. So, people with spinal injuries, for example, could re-learn how to use their limbs.
And the list of its possibilities goes on…
On Wednesday this week, the team at Manchester Uni have just received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the next generation of condoms, based on graphene, which could stop the spread of HIV and Aids.
The same day this week a British company, which is among the leaders in the race to scale-up manufacture of graphene, was floated on the London Stock Exchange for £36.4m.
Graphene is the new ‘super material’ and is looking like it’s going to be a more significant breakthrough than silicon – by a long way. It is probably going to change the world in a very significant way.
So, if you hadn’t heard of graphene, you’re now in the loop. Let’s watch it develop over next few years as it commercialises. It will certainly impact us marketers, as we see new products develop, new graphene-based technologies emerge and consumers shifting their behaviour around this miracle material.
Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM