Graphene looks set to become one of the most revolutionary scientific discoveries of all time. This simple carbon allotrope possesses physical qualities previously unheard of and almost unthinkable potential in terms of the sheer number of its possible applications. It is literally a layer of atoms that can be moved around that is more rigid than a diamond, totally impermeable, and has an electrical current density a million times better than that of copper. At present, the huge number of potential uses of graphene are basically just that — potential uses. Development of this material is still in its infancy, but possible applications include touchscreen technology, electronic semi-conductor components, and gas sensors.
In scientific terms, graphene is one of the most anomalous substances ever researched. Practically, it is a simple allotrope of carbon, meaning that it's one of several possible forms of carbon, the diamond being another. Graphene is basically a single atomic layer of carbon molecules that is not only rigid enough to pick up, but also visible to the naked eye. It is totally impermeable, possesses outstanding thermal and electrical conductivity, and is resistant to strong acid and alkali attack. It also exhibits exceptional strength and flexibility and also has good optical properties.
All of these properties make graphene one of the most exciting and potential rich materials of all time. The research and development into the possible uses of graphene are still at the bottom of what promises to be a steep curve, but initial work has returned some very encouraging results. One of the industries that stands to gain the most from the many potential uses of graphene is electronic engineering. Flexible touchscreens, highly-efficient semi-conductor components, and room temperature superconductors are just a few of the possible uses of graphene in this industrial sector.
Graphene's impermeable nature and its molecular reaction to contact with gases also make it a strong contender for use in gas detection equipment. In addition, its inert nature holds great promise for the development of acid- and alkali-resistant coatings. The fact that it is a material that can produce the thinnest single atomic lattice and that it has good optical properties also means it would be an excellent support membrane for electron microscopes. Although large-scale commercial application of all of these applications are probably still years away as of 2011, the possible uses of graphene are too significant for it not to have created interest and a considerable wave of new research.