Graphene is a single, flat layer of carbon atoms packed tightly into a two-dimensional honeycomb arrangement. The in-plane (two-dimensional) carbon-carbon bonds in graphene are the strongest bonds known to science. It is these bonds that give graphene its unbelievable mechanical strength and flexibility.
Graphene is essentially a single layer of graphite, the material found in pencil “lead”. When you draw on paper with a pencil, weakly bound graphene sheets in the graphite spread over your paper like a pack of cards.
But because graphene is so thin – the thickness of a single carbon atom – it is extremely difficult to see. This is one of the reasons it took researchers so long to find graphene sheets among thicker stacks of graphite.
Despite being so thin, graphene is an excellent conductor of electricity. Electrons flow through graphene with almost zero electrical resistance. This unusual property, and the fact graphene is nearly invisible, makes it an ideal material for the transparent electrodes used in computer displays and solar cells.
While scientists have known about graphene since 2004, it was in 2010 that researchers from Samsung and Sungkyunkwan University took a critical step in developing the commercial applications of this material.
They developed a scalable fabrication method which enabled them to produce transparent and flexible graphene electrodes measuring 30 inches (76cm) diagonally. This method enabled them to manufacture multi-layer electrode films and incorporate these into a fully functional touch-screen panel device capable of withstanding high strain.
As a result of this development, it mightn’t be too long before graphene is powering the displays on your favourite electronic gadgets.