Although Nobel Prize awarding generally tend to stir up controversy, giving the 2010 prize in physics to Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester was without a shadow of a doubt a good decision.
Stating that the two researchers invented graphene is not exactly correct. Truth is, this allotropic form of carbon has been intriguing numerous scientists since the early 70’s of the last century. The name itself was invented in 1987. Interestingly, over the past 30 years no-one managed to isolate graphene. Only in 2004, this task was accomplished by two Russians, who moved to Britain still in the USSR era. Their names were Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov.
Geim has his own laboratory which makes the perfect space for him and Novoselov to carry out various brilliant and definitely unorthodox experiments. These crazy sessions, proudly named “Friday evenings” by the authors, hosted such great and - well - bizarre events as making a frog levitate with the use of magnets. Officially the experiment was designed to prove that “a state of weightlessness can be achieved not only in space”, which may sound serious, but does not change the fact that it was precisely these findings that “won” the scientists the 2001 Anti-Nobel prize.
Graphene, a carbon layer of a honeycomb structure, and a thickness of just one atom hailed as the material of the future, may leave the labs and hit the shops relatively soon. In what form? The Americans have found graphene applicable in energy storage; apparently, graphene-enriched batteries store three times more energy than the regular ones.
Much has been talked and written about other potential applications of graphene. Scientists speak of replacing silicon in integrated circuits, constructing solar cells and praise graphene’s incredible performance records. Harry Potter fans will probably get excited when they hear that continuous attempts are being made to use graphene to fabricate…an invisibility cloak. Inspiring as they may be, these possible applications have one thing in common: they have all been confined to the four walls of laboratories - at least until recently.Chances are this will change due to the latest discoveries made at Argonne National Laboratory, which Lithium Battery, a California company, decided to employ in their production line.
Argonne scientists have discovered that older battery anode types made of silicon carbide (currently used are the graphite ones), which have earlier fallen into disuse because of their instability, when covered with graphene turned out to be stable, and double battery capacity. One extra side-effect is reduced battery weight - now by ca. 16%, but scientists assume that in the near future the reduction might reach the level of 50%. This means a three-fold increase of battery capacity, while maintaining the same weight.Unfortunately, first the new battery will power electric cars and power engineering; this will possibly happen in two years time. Only later they are planned to be made available for everyday use.