Scientistshave outlined how they managed to make the "wonder material" grapheneusing a kitchen blender
In graphene, carbon atoms are arranged in a honeycombstructure, one atom thick
Graphene is thin, strong, flexible and electricallyconductive, and has the potential to transform electronics as well as othertechnologies.
An Irish-UK team poured graphite powder (used inpencil leads) into a blender, then added water and dishwashing liquid, mixingat high speed.
The results are reported in the journal NatureMaterials.
Because of its potential uses in industry, a number ofresearchers have been searching for ways to make defect-free graphene in largeamounts.
The material comprises a one-atom-thick sheet ofcarbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Graphite - mixed with clay toproduce the lead in pencils - is effectively made up of many layers of graphenestacked on top of one another.
Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College Dublin andcolleagues tested out a variety of laboratory mixers as well as kitchenblenders as potential tools for manufacturing the wonder material.
They showed that the shearing force generated by arapidly rotating tool in solution was sufficiently intense to separate the layersof graphene that make up graphite flakes without damaging their two-dimensionalstructure.
However, it's not advisable to try this at home. Theprecise amount of dishwashing fluid that's required is dependent on a number ofdifferent factors and the black solution containing graphene would need to beseparated afterwards.
But the researchers said their work "provides asignificant step" towards deploying graphene in a variety of commercialapplications.
The scientists have been working with UK-based firmThomas Swan to scale up the process, with the aim of building a pilot plantthat could produce a kilo of graphene per day by the end of the year.
In addition to its potential uses in electronics,graphene might have applications in water treatment, oil spill clean-up andeven in the production of thinner condoms.
In 2010, Manchester University researchers Andre Geimand Konstantin Novoselov shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveryof graphene. They published details of their advance in the academic journalScience in 2004.
They famously used sticky tape to peel off the layersof graphene from graphite.
Graphene can currently be grown atom-by-atom via aprocess called chemical vapour deposition. However, while this can producemetre-scale sheets of graphene, they also contain defects which can inhibittheir properties.