Friday, October 29, 2010

Tech Trivia: Transparent Aluminum? That's So Yesterday!

Today's Tech Gospel is about Graphene.  Made up of carbon... you know... that thing that makes up all known living things... diamonds... and your #2 pencil?

I don't know how many geeks actually read my blog, but to the few that do... I'm sure you all know the famous scene in the 1986 movie, Star Trek IV, that shows Scotty 'inventing' the formula for "Transparent Aluminum".  A fictional future material that is supposedly as transparent as glass, but as strong as aluminum.

Fast forward to 2008 when the US Military was experimenting with ALON, a transparent aluminum ceramic that is used as military armor and can withstand 50 cal anti-tank rounds.  Due to cost restrictions (I think it costs about $20,000/m²), the military has decided against this amazing armor plating.  ALON exhibits very similar properties to the fictional "futuristic" material in the Star Trek movie.

Fast forward a little more to 2010, when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov win the Nobel Prize in Physics for Graphene.  (It was actually discovered in 2004, but the recent breakthrough was in its fabrication process.)

This wonder material is hundreds of times stronger than steel... 97% transparent... exhibits better electrical and heat conductive properties than copper... is flexible... and is virtually indestructible (although this is a slight exaggeration, it has a Velcro-like property that allows it to pseudo-heal itself on a molecular level so quickly that it appears to not be damaged at all) ... and unlike the former ALON, Graphene is cheap to produce.  And this is not a It-will-be-cheap-sometime-in-the-future... it's actually cheap to produce NOW.

It's applications include everything from military armor, low-cost/high capacity batteries, computers, solar cells, flexible touchscreens, high-strength windows, and recyclable lighting.

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