From the June 2009 issue, published online May 19, 2009
Graphene, the hottest new material in electronics, is remarkably simple: a flat sheet of pure carbon rings—just one atom thick—that resembles chicken wire. But this unassuming structure has caught the attention of researchers at laboratories in the United Kingdom, Texas, and Georgia and even at IBM. They are studying graphene for a wide range of applications, from computer chips to communication devices to touch screens. It might even put a fresh spark into the electrical grid.
Consisting of a single layer of graphite, graphene is an allotrope of carbon that has been studied for decades. It did not seem technologically important, however, until scientists began looking at potential replacements for silicon in electronics. In 2004 physicists at the University of Manchester in England demonstrated a simple way to produce graphene—peeling off layers of graphite, a method known as mechanical exfoliation—spurring an explosion of research.
Graphene has several very appealing traits. Electrons meet much less resistance from graphene than they do from silicon, traveling through it more than 100 times as easily. And because...