Invisible Dust

London | Friday 25 May
Pollution level: Moderate

Made in Manchester: the endless possibilities of Graphene



Graphene was first produced in a lab at the University of Manchester in 2004. Although scientists had known that a one-atom thick, two-dimensional crystal graphene existed for some time, no one had figured out how to extract it from graphite. That was until Prof Andre Geim and Prof Kostya Novoselov, of The University of Manchester, managed to isolate it with the joyfully simplistic sounding ‘scotch-tape method’, a technique which involves placing a sample of graphite onto sticky tape, folding and peeling the tape several times to create progressively thinner layers of graphite – eventually leading to a single layer of carbon.

The excitement around this new material stems from its remarkable physical properties and their potential applications. Graphene is the first 2D crystal ever known to us. It’s the thinnest object ever obtained, and the lightest one. It’s the worlds strongest material; harder than diamond and about 300 times stronger than steel. Not to mention it is highly conductive, bendable and transparent. The potential is so great that it earned Geim and Novoselov a Nobel prize in physics in 2010.

Scientists are currently experimenting with Graphene’s ability to be an active battery material. These Graphene-based devices are called “supercapacitors,” batteries, they hold enormous power and charge within a few seconds. With such development, we might soon see ultrathin flexible batteries that charge in less than a minute that could be integrated into clothes. Some scientists have suggested that these innovations could lead to battery-free electric cars within 5 years. While ordinary batteries take up large amount of spaces, supercapacitors could be integrated into multiple areas of the vehicle, such as the roof, floor, and doors providing the vehicle with the amount of energy it needs, while making the vehicle itself much lighter.

Graphene has already found its way into the art world. Novoselov and artist Cornelia Parker teamed up for the reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth gallery. Upon Parker’s request Novoselov was able to extract Graphene from a William Blake drawing. The pair was able to utilize the transformed material’s new capacities, using it as a transistor to make a switch. The material is so sensitive a mere breath from Novoselov was able trigger the switch, setting off a firework display designed by Parker. Though the extraordinary material properties of Graphene and this unusual pairing, science was able to quite literally breathe onto art.

Invisible Dust is excited to announce a new project as part of Manchester European City of Science 2016. We are working with digital artist Kasia Molga and scientist Professor Frank Kelly, to create an exciting new project ‘Human Sensor’.


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