Thursday, March 1, 2007

UK Scientists Reporting Major Technology Breakthrough

The Times (UK) is reporting:

Scientists have created the thinnest material in the world and predict that it will revolutionise computing and medical research.

A layer of carbon has been manufactured in a film only one atom thick that defies the laws of physics. Placed in layers on top of each other it would take 200,000 membranes to reach high enough to match the thickness of a human hair.

The substance, graphene, was created two years ago but could be made only when stuck to another material. Researchers have now managed to manufacture it as a film suspended between the nanoscale bars of scaffolding made from gold.

Such a feat was held to be impossible by theorists, backed up by experimentation, because it is in effect a two-dimensional crystal that is supposed to be destroyed instantly by heat.

The crystalline membrane, comprising carbon atoms formed into hexagonal groups of six to create a honeycomb pattern, is thought to be able to exist because rather than lying flat it undulates slightly. Un- dulation provides the structure with a third dimension that gives it the strength to hold together, the researchers have reported in the journal Nature.

The graphene membrane has proved to be so stable that it holds together in vacuums and at room temperature. All other known materials oxidise, decompose and become unstable at sizes ten times the thickness.

It was created by scientists at the University of Manchester, working with the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

“This is a completely new type of technology — even nanotechnology is not the right word to describe these new membranes,” said Professor Andre Geim, of the University of Manchester.

“We have made proof-of-concept devices and believe that the technology transfer to other areas should be straightforward. The real challenge is to make such membranes cheap and readily available for large-scale applications.”

Kostya Novoselov, of the University of Manchester, said that its main applications were expected to be in vastly increasing the speed at which computers could make calculations and in researching new drugs.

Read the entire story here.

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