‘Wonder’ matter is on its way

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Feel free to believe the hype, an expert says, but the full graphene payoff still is years away.

Graphene, which is a one-atom-thick layer of graphite, has so many attractive properties that it has been called a “miracle material,” but it’s difficult to manufacture in large, useable quantities.

As a one-atom-thick sheet, graphene is 20 times harder than a diamond is, conducts electricity 20 times better than copper does and is flexible. It can help to hold a charge for weeks, run faster than the silicon processors that cellphones use, and permit smartphones and wearable technology devices, such as fitness trackers (which Consumers Digest will cover in September/October 2014) and other wristbands, to be fully flexible. However, it loses those properties when small quantities are combined into a single wafer or when a sheet is thicker than one atom.

In April 2014, Samsung Electronics announced that it created large sheets of graphene that retain their properties, and chemistry researchers published findings 2 weeks later that revealed how they synthesized graphene by using an industrial blender.

British chemical company Thomas Swan, which funded the research into synthesizing graphene, says it expects to sell graphene to manufacturers by the end of 2014. However, graphene will make its way into technology gradually to replace silicon chips, says Malik Saadi, who is the practice director for semiconductors at ABI Research, which is a technology market-research company.