Why has there been all this fuss lately about a substance that many of us have never even heard of and yet have probably all created each time we use a simple pencil, and was isolated using nothing more elaborate than strips of Scotch tape? What relevance could it possibly have to our lives and to those of us in practice? Well, it seems that the answer to this is potentially “quite a lot.” In fact, graphene is a material that is being touted as possibly leading a brand new industrial revolution, with multiple uses in everything from energy, computing and medicine.
What is graphene?
It is a form of carbon that is arranged in a 2D single sheet, with the atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern. Discovered in 2004 by two Nobel Prize-winning scientists working out of Manchester University (UK), Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, it has some pretty incredible properties, which are getting lots of people quite excited across a whole swathe of industries.
What properties does graphene have?
1. It is a crystal lattice of only 1 atom thickness
2. It is about 300 times stronger than steel
3. It conducts electricity much better than copper
4. It is transparent
5. It is flexible and take any form imaginable
6. It can be combined with other single-atom 2D lattices to create a whole range of unique materials, with properties useful to a variety of industries
7. It is the thinnest and lightest material ever obtained
8. It is harder than diamond
9. It is a perfect thermal (heat) conductor
10. It is very stretchable and can be stretched up to 20% of it’s original length
It is basically a SUPER MATERIAL!
These properties make graphene potentially useful in the following applications:
Flexible screens – the idea of a foldable, bendable touchscreen is possible with the use of graphene, given it’s properties of flexibility, transparency and conductivity. Imagine your own pair of barely perceptible clinical ‘glasses’ that enable you to access all of the clinical information that you could need instantly and in front of your eyes. Never again will you forget the name of Mrs Thing’s dog or cat, and MRI images will be beamed to your eyes the moment they are taken.
Next generation computer chips – the days of bulky computer stations in vet practices will be a thing of the ancient past, with super fast, ultra mobile, impossibly thin computing power transforming our consult rooms into clean, comfortable, quiet havens of solitude in which our clients and their animals will feel much happier. They will be so much easier to keep spotlessly clean as well.
New composite materials – from advanced implants to fabrics with incredible properties, including the ability to sense changes in local tissue conditions, for example at a resolving wound or fracture site, the potential applications for graphene in medicine and surgery seems limitless. An inert substance, graphene could offer huge opportunities for the development of super strong, lightweight, yet non-reactive surgical implants, enabling us to successfully treat and manage a host of different conditions.
Biological and chemical sensors – graphene can adsorb and desorb various atoms and molecules, with this property lending graphene to the development of various chemical sensors. Being able to more readily and acurately detect even trace amounts of various biological compounds and agents, especially when combined with super fast, micro-electronics, makes the future for medical sensor technology a fascinating and truly exciting one. Simple implantable biological sensors could very easily make it from the pages of science fiction into medical fact, with the potential benefits, especially in managing and treating animal conditions, many and varied.
So there you go. The next time you scribble some notes down using a bog-standard pencil, just remember that the material you have probably just created is one that is poised to transform the very world as we know it. Imagining where it is going to take us in veterinary, and life in general, is an incredible thought.