Attempts at simplifying the intricacies behind graphene and other two-dimensional materials causes some issues in a story by Knowable Magazine
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This article introduces a fairly new class of 2 dimensional (meaning single-atomic-layer) materials and their wonderful properties that might be utilized for future applications. It starts with graphene, usually dubbed as a ‘wonder-material’ to convey how its discovery back in 2003 started a world-wide frenzy of working over building applications that could potentially replace the existing silicon-based electronic industry. It then continues to introduce a new class of such atomically thin materials that have been discovered – like Phosphorene (monolayer Phosphorus), Borophene (monolayer Boron) etc. and explains on their possible applications in future. It conveys the message that a whole array of atomically thin materials like graphene have been/are being discovered with special properties which might help increase the speed of development of technology utilizing such materials in the coming days. John Wenz has done a good job in conveying the important scientific aspects of the studies to a general audience although on certain occasions, some of the jargon used seem to have been overlooked, misinterpreted, or wrongly used.
The article starts with explaining what ‘graphene’ is, how it was discovered, and its potential applications that have been/are being explored today. The electronics industry was emphasized as being one of the significant beneficiaries if such materials with low impurities can be manufactured on a large-scale. Prof. Hersam from the Northwestern University gives his opinions on the current state of utilization of graphene-oxide in batteries. Then, the reason for graphene’s very high electrical conductivity is explained. The problems we are facing in efficiently producing graphene of high-quality are mentioned. Dr. Walker also stresses this fact. A brief description of Phosphorene is then given and compared with Graphene over their physical properties. Borophene is taken up and explained. The availability of a varied class of materials including semiconductors, metal, insulators and magnetic materials (like Chromium Triiodide, which has also been briefly explained) has been underscored well, and possibilities of using them in combinations with each other for a specific application are accentuated. Overall, it gives the reader a general overview of the emerging possibilities in the discovery of new 2-dimensional materials and their possible applications – an exciting future indeed! Some statements made are problematic. In the case of graphene being “stronger than steel”, although graphene is ‘theoretically’ known to be stronger than steel, the practically studied graphene sheets are very fragile and lack the expected tensile strength. This is due to the impurities and physical defects present inside the sheet.
This article attempts to explain the science behind emerging technologies for new conductive materials, mainly graphene. These materials are meant to be extremely conductive and very resilient, making them perfect for consumer technology and space travel. While their applications sound very promising, graphene and other related technologies are still in their early stages and are taking time to find useful ways to display their advantages in the real world.
The article is clearly aimed at somebody with less of a scientific background, and it does its best to simplify the concepts that it introduces, however, it tends to sacrifice some important content for the sake of accessibility. Statements such as claiming that graphene is “stronger than steel” and can “stop a bullet” are true in theory, but not in practice, when it is only made to be extremely thin and in small quantities. The article also glosses over the chemistry of how certain materials work, like Phosphorene being a good semi-conductor due to its “wavy structure”. Readers of this article would most likely be interested in the actual chemistry of these compounds, and not just a simple summary. Although this article tries very hard to be accessible to the public, it still falls short in some respects. For something that spends so little time and effort explaining the chemistry of these new technologies, it still expects the reader to have a decent knowledge of how conductivity and the periodic table work, as well as basic knowledge on concepts such as nanotubes. One would expect that somebody who knows about these subjects would want the article to elaborate more on the things that it skimmed. This article tries to please many different audiences, but instead it doesn’t seem to satisfy any one audience.
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Hills, G., Lau, C., Wright, A. et al. Modern microprocessor built from complementary carbon nanotube transistors. Nature 572, 595–602 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1493-8
Sangwan VK, Hersam MC. Electronic transport in two-dimensional materials. Annual review of physical chemistry. 69, 299-325. (2018) doi: 10.1146/annurev-physchem-050317-021353
Toth M, Aharonovich I. Single Photon Sources in Atomically Thin Materials. Annual review of physical chemistry. 70, 123-142. (2019) doi: 0.1146/annurev-physchem-042018-052628
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