Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Graphene holds the promise of the future of engineering and technology, it’s like a miracle substance! It was discovered in 2004, and we’ve had a lot of trouble making it… until now. Hey graph-heads, Trace here for DNews. Remember wayyy back in 2013 when we learned graphene capacitors might make our phones magical? We said someday they’ll charge in five seconds! Then graphene sort of… disappeared. I mean, it was out there, and we knew it was cool, but we had trouble making a lot of it at one time, or doing things with it. So, time for an update. Let me catch y’all up. Graphene is a one-atom thick lattice of carbon atoms. It’s super-capacitive, electrically conductive, biodegradable, 200 times stronger than steel, can take pretty much any shape, and is ultralight. It’s been theorized to help clean up nuclear waste, easily filter the salt from seawater, could make ridiculous headphones, is biocompatible -- meaning you can hook it right to biological cells (read: cyborgs)... um, what else…. Oh right, help make space elevators a reality, create flexible computers, unbreakable phone screens, and create the base for new supercomputers… needless to say, the shiz is tight. The problem iiisss... It’s kind of really super hard to make in large quantities. It’s what supply chain management people would call an issue with scale. Until very recently, graphene could only be made in tiny quantities or using difficult processes. For example, a study from 2015 in Nature Communications detailed the growing -- yes growing -- of the nanoscale graphene lattice on a copper base. But, from that they only got a sheet of 8 by 13 millimeters. SO GREAT. (whisper: not great). Though admittedly, they say this could scale up… This stuff is so incredible, that everyone is working to try and figure it out. But, it’s just too expensive to make it at a large scale outside of a laboratory. Though, a 2017 study in Nature Communications detailed how to make graphene in a single step: heating soybean oil to 800 C on a nickel foil causes the carbon to arrange into a single (one atom-thick) sheet of graphene -- slightly hotter temperatures made the sheets of graphene thicker! This method is fast, works out in the open air (most others require a vacuum chamber), and could cut the cost of making this stuff ten-fold! Though they’re still not scaling it… the largest sheet created thus far was about the size of a credit card. But funnily enough, a physics professor just patented an accidentally discovered “high-yield” graphene creation system! It’s scalable, affordable, and (like the soybean method) doesn’t use the “nasty chemicals” used by older methods. To create it, they literally explode acetylene and oxygen using a spark plug. Acetylene provides the carbon for the graphene to create itself in the heat of the explosion, but they don’t come out in nice sheets, rather, in chunks. Grams of chunks! While the yield of other methods is measured in milligrams, this makes way more! Their problem (because nothing is easy) is the graphene isn’t as high quality… so they have to fix that, maybe by getting it out of the explosion chamber sooner? We’ll see. At least one group of researchers are looking beyond that when all these problems with making graphene are worked out, and are molding the ultra-light material into a fluffy, “cobwebby” network. The design, published in Science Advances details how MIT researchers addressed a problem with graphene: when turning it into shapes, you lose some of its incredible properties. By looking at the atomic structure, they found part of the magic of graphene is the way the atoms are interconnected. By mimicking that atomic design on a macro level -- they created this weird shape. That mimicked shape lets graphene keep its amazing properties. We just have to figure out how to use it to construct buildings! It’s lighter than a plastic bag, but stronger than steel. Someday, they could grow graphene in or on molds like this one, and use that product to build a bridge! Assuming… of course, we can ever make it. Look, however you feel about graphene. Get out there and become an engineer. Not only do we need more people figuring out how to design bridges based on carbon atoms, but we need more people blowing up stuff to try and invent the world’s strongest material. And, that person could be you. Science is the best. Want more information on graphene and find out how it can charge your cell phone in five seconds? Watch this super old video I edited myself in 2013. Yeah, I know. I KNOW. Those were the days. What do you guys think about super-strong, ultralight graphene? What would you build? Tell us in the comments, make sure you subscribe for more DNews and thank you for watching.