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Fast Draw: Graphene

4 minutes

It's true that graphene could inspire a revolution. But it's not all that complicated. Graphene is simply carbon.

(male narrator) Carbon is everywhere. It's the lead in your pencil. Your car burns it. You eat and breath it. You are it. Carbon is the second most common element in your body. This form of carbon is unlike any other. Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in hexagons. Kind of like molecular chicken wire. That structure makes it special. It's incredibly strong, unlike pencil lead, and it's lightweight, unlike the carbon that accumulates in humans and animals. It's lighter and stronger than steel. It could, theoretically, strengthen all kinds of materials, from golf clubs to planes to spaceships. What are people most excited about? It's graphene's potential to change computers. To find out about this, we talked to a graphene farmer.

[laughs]

No, I don't farm it, actually. I do something different... Okay, graphene grower. Walter de Heer is a physics professor at Georgia Tech. He helped us understand why scientists are all charged up about this.

(narrator) Electricity is like water moving through a pipe. It seems like electricity is just flowing, but it's actually being pumped or pushed. It's a lot of work. But with graphene, electricity can move more like a wave, effortlessly crossing great distances, carrying energy across the ocean. It's much less work. de Heer says, if we could replace silicon computer chips with graphene... That would be fantastic.

(narrator) The most powerful carbon-based computer in the world is your brain. de Heer says, "Not so fast." Graphene is great in the lab, but to do incredible things in the real world, the price tag would also be incredible. If the sticker price would be $100,000, we would worry. We're miles away from even thinking about that. There's so much to do. How do you get graphene? You've actually seen it before. The graphite in your pencil is layers of carbon atoms. If you strip them away, eventually you're left with one layer of carbon atoms. That's graphene. Isolating it is surprisingly easy. Putting it to practical use in things like computer chips is still out of reach. When scientists solve these problems, this deceptively simple material is likely to change the world. Because simple materials have a way of doing that. When ancient Egyptian leaders got their hands on paper, it changed how they governed and how they waged war. Written words now crossed thousands of miles. Something they couldn't do with stone tablets. Steel allowed nations to build great cities and towering skyscrapers. Industry was transformed, manufacturing, transportation. Some day, carbon will be more than bubbles in your soda. Because when graphene comes of age with its strength, light weight, and electrical properties, it promises to be a material that builds our future.

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Graphene could make it possible for electricity to move effortlessly through computer chips, thereby allowing computer systems to run faster than ever before. Savings in both heat and energy costs could have graphene replacing silicon as the basis of computer chip construction. Part of the Fast Draw Series.

Media Details

Runtime: 4 minutes

Fast Draw
Episode 1
6 minutes
Grade Level: 6 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 3
3 minutes
Grade Level: 6 - 12
Fast Draw
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12