Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Graphene shows its colors (The Economist)

This week's Economist has two science articles that seem particularly interesting. I wrote about the element 119 article the other day. Today I'd like to focus on the article about graphene and the hopes that it will propel technology to yet another new height of sophistication.

Most people might peruse through this article and not realize its connection with the digital revolution, quantum mechanics and all the ingenious technological devices we all carry around in our pockets. This is a concept that earned Albert Einstein a Nobel Prize. He articulated and illustrated the concept that had been part of experimentation, literature and science for a period of time before he really tinkered with it.  Ironic, I think, that the man famous for saying, "God does not play dice" received the majority of the credit for a discovery that largely supports the tenets of quantum mechanics.

In a nutshell, photoelectronics uses the wave/particle nature of light to transform photons of light into electricity. A photodetector is needed for this process. This article nicely explains photodetectors and their current limitations. Most are made of silicon material that isn't flexible, sensitive or cheap enough to really run electricity through anything large.

It is thought that graphene might replace silicon as the material of choice for these photodetectors. Perhaps in the future we'll see photodetectors used in high gain transistors, like those of the telecon industry. The future of electronics is now in limbo again....