A new manufacturing technique could accelerate use of the world's strongest material in computers and other products.
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Flexible displays, terahertz chips, and vastly improved electronics just got closer to emerging from laboratories and reaching the market, thanks to the work of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea.
Samsung Electronics announced Friday that its researchers have found a way to accelerate the commercialization of graphene, a material endowed with exceptional conductivity, strength, flexibility, lightness, and transparency.
Discovered in 2004 by professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester -- a feat that earned them the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics -- graphene is seen as a wonder material that can revolutionize products and industrial processes across multiple industries.
Graphene is the strongest material in the world; it's stronger than diamond and about 300 times stronger than steel. Yet it's flexible. It's also the thinnest material in the world; it can be made in sheets one atom thick, which also makes it transparent. It's the best electrical conductor known.
The reason graphene isn't everywhere is that it's difficult to manufacture. That's why researchers around the globe are trying to simplify the process. It's a matter of scientific and national interest. Those companies capable of integrating graphene into industrial processes are likely to play a major role in the 21st-century equivalent of the semiconductor revolution that played out in the second half of the 20th century.
Last year, the University of Manchester began building a $100 million National Graphene Institute to commercialize the substance. But research groups in China, South Korea, and the US, among other countries, also have recognized the commercial potential of graphene and are racing to find ways to manufacture the material at scale and to make it commercially useful.
Graphene's presence in consumer goods is limited at the moment to tennis rackets made by Head. But it is likely to be used in future mobile phone touchscreens (particularly flexible ones) and for powerful, energy-efficient computer processors. In November, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the National Graphene Institute to develop a graphene-based condom, which could advance the foundation's public health goals.
SAIT found a way to grow uniform single-crystal monolayer graphene on a silicon wafer, a necessary step to use graphene on chips instead of traditional semiconductors. Previous efforts focused on multi-crystal synthesis -- adding small graphene particles to cover a large area -- but that process degraded the advantageous properties of the material.
In a press release, Samsung Electronics called its researchers' work "one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history."
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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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