Video Friday: Graphene, Nanomaterials, a Documentary on Nanotechnology

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We use nanotechnology and nanomaterials every day or our lives. They are in sporting goods, microelectronics, automotive goods, biomedical devices, etc.

Graphene is a nanomaterial that comes from the oldest and cheapest material, called graphite. Graphene is a none atom thick layer of carbon. To put it in perspective, graphite is made of billions of layers of carbon, if you take one layer of that graphite, you have graphene. Graphene is very flexible, light and transparent; and it is 300 times stronger than steel, which makes graphene the strongest material known to man. The biggest problem with graphene, is that it is difficult to make.

Graphene was first discovered by taking scotch tape and a pencil with graphite, then scribbling on the piece of scotch tape, then by continuously separating the scotch tape over and over, you get a thinner piece of graphite. until eventually you reach about an atom thickness and you then have graphene. But this process, would be very difficult to produce graphene commercially. By using “magic” solvents, we can produce billions of graphene sheets in a half hour. Now scientists have improved that figure to one kilogram of graphene an hour. Graphene is not the only layered material in nature, so by exploring these different materials, we can produce totally different nanomaterials with completely different properties, because they would be made by different atoms.

There are several useful products that can be produced from nanomaterials, including printable and flexible electronics. Nanotechnology can also be used to make solar panels more affordable. Although, at the present time, solar panels are being produced, at a price that many people are happy to pay , for the output they produce. The problem is that when they are placed outside they become damaged from the sunlight. What happens is that the solar panels power output begins to slowly degrade up to 30% from its initial value, which is a very significant loss, and greatly affects the cost of the solar panel.

In microelectronics, a problem was discovered that was traced to ionized copper being affected by a light source. Since copper is positively charged, and positive and negative charges attract each other, if we put a material with a negative charge on the surface of the solar cell we can remove the effects caused by the harmful copper.

In the study of advanced nanotechnology, there are two engineering methods. The standard method and the exploratory method. Products engineered using the standard methodology must be able to be described and modeled, and must be able to be manufactured. In the standard model, ideas must be concrete, whereas in the exploratory method, parametric designs are more acceptable and are open to designs that are not yet understood.

We have seen winged flight and optical imaging, for example, and we have artificial systems that mimic them. The materials may be different but the systems are the same. In the molecular world, there are also several biological systems with there artificial counterpart. The biological systems use enzymes, whereas the artificial system uses digital information to create several new materials which can be used for making bulletproof vests with silk fiber.