Last week’s Reader Request Thread produced a bunch of good suggestions, some of which I’ll be responding to this week as I put the last touches on the book draft and send it off. We’ll start with a good physics question from Moshe:
So, what do you think about graphene? the next big thing, or just the latest fad?
Doug might be a better person to answer this, as it’s a little closer to his field. It’s unquestionably the latest fad, the question is whether it’s a fad with legs or not.
Graphene, for those not up on the subject, is basically just carbon in one-atom-thick sheets. It’s two-dimensional graphite, more or less– lots and lots of carbon atoms bound together in a regular structure that looks a little like chicken wire.
Graphene is a relatively recent development– the Wikipedia link above says it was first studied in 2004, which sounds about right– but interest in it has really exploded. Not a week goes by without a story in Physics World about some amazing new development involving graphene– they account for a fair fraction of the materials stories I tag on del.icio.us. It has all sorts of interesting electrical and thermal properties, and there’s a lot of hype about the revolutionary applications that are just around the corner.
In terms of the “fad” question, this really reminds me of the explosion of hype about carbon nanotubes a few years back– you couldn’t flip open a science magazine without seeing three or four stories about the nifty things people would be doing with nanotubes any day now. Progress there has slowed substantially– not to a halt, certainly, but the promised wonders haven’t quite emerged.
It’s not clear whether graphene will follow the same trajectory or not. My half-assed guess would be that graphene stands a better chance of being put to use quickly, just because it seems like it should be easier to produce and manipulate– my impression is that it’s kind of hard to grow nanotubes in the arrangements you would like for interesting electronic applications, but you get graphene in sheets by peeling it off graphite, and can make whatever connections you like. I could be way off base, though.
I guess I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic that it might be a real Big Thing and not just a passing fad. That’s mostly a guess, though, not a terribly well-informed opinion.