Graphene is a 2-dimensional, crystalline allotrope of carbon, and can be described as a one-atom thick layer of graphite. In graphene, carbon atoms are densely packed in a regular sp2-bonded atomic-scale chicken wire (hexagonal) pattern. Never mind what sp2-bond means, it is the structure of graphene which gives it much of its unique properties, and makes graphene the “wonder-material”.
Here is a bunch of actual carbon atoms: if you squeeze your eyes you can see the individual atoms!!
Ever since its discovery, Graphene has not stopped to impress the world with its properties, and potential areas of application. Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, and harder than diamond, yet the lightest material known to man. It is highly flexible and can take (almost) any form. Graphene is nearly transparent, conducts electricity much better then copper, and has excellent biocompatible properties. Researchers have also identified the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges and large quantum oscillations in graphene.
Where do these properties come from?
So, let’s start with some basics. Graphene is one single atom thick carbon. Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after oxygen, helium, and hydrogen. What this effectively means is that carbon compounds form the basis of all known life on Earth.
Carbon is the sixth element, with a ground-state electron configuration of 1s22s22p2, of which the four outer electrons are valence electrons. About anything entirely made of carbon atoms has a tendency to be incredibly strong, beyond just about anything else known to material science. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to matter too much how the carbon is arranged; whether it’s a tetrahedral crystal lattice (diamond), or a hexagonal 2D lattice (graphene), real pure carbon seems to be magically super-strong in just about any configuration, except for graphite the mother of graphene!?!