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Technology

#14: Supermaterial Gets Supersized

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Graphene—a superstrong, transparent, conductive material made up of a single layer of carbon atoms—nabbed the 2010 Nobel Prize for the physicists who isolated it. And no wonder: The material has the potential to revolutionize electronics if it can be produced in sufficient size and quantity.

Last June researchers in South Korea, Japan, and Singapore announced a major step in that direction. They created sheets of graphene 30 inches across (compared with pieces of just a few inches previously) and used them to build a working touch screen for the first time.

Materials scientist Jong-Hyun Ahn and chemist Byung Hee Hong of Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea report that their graphene sheet—which they grew on copper foil—is both a better transparent conductor and a more flexible material than indium tin oxide, currently the leading choice in applications such as liquid crystal displays. To create the functional touch screen, they stacked the carbon sheets and attached them to a thin plastic film.

Hong says that large-scale manufacturing facilities should help drive down the cost of production, and touch screens based on graphene may be commercially available in as little as two years. Other potential applications include better flat-panel displays and solar cells.

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