Monday, March 27, 2006

Graphene, a new form of graphite

Who would have guessed that graphite, you know the stuff that pencil leads and lubricants are made from, would challenge the fundamental laws of physics? Actually it is the newly discovered form of graphite called graphene that has scientists and engineers a buzz. No, I'm not talking about other forms of carbon called buckyballs and buckytubes which in essence are zero and one dimensional forms of graphite. I'm referring to graphene, the two dimensional counterpart of these. It turns out, that graphene is an amazingly good conductor of electricity. Electrons travel through it so fast that their behavior is governed by the theory of relativity rather than classical physics. Combine that with how it fails to react with gases and moisture present in the air at room temperature and you get smart people thinking about connections inside computer chips, chips smaller and faster than anything yet seen. Yes! This means real, viable commercial applications!
But that isn't all. Graphene exhibits effects that were previously thought to occur only in plasma around neutron stars. These effects can now be studied in desk top experiments. But the intrigue continues; graphene contains quasi particles and a unique type known as massive chiral fermions. Particle physics predicts that any particle that has chirality cannot have mass. So a massive chiral fermion is a (massive) contradiction.
This is the stuff that rocks the physics world and you don't have to be a scientist to appreciate the implications especially in the computing world. So why have I only read about this (and borrowed heavily from) in a small article in The Economist, called Smooth operator in the March 18th-24th 2006 edition?
For further reference and some amusing commentary visit Jennifer Quellette's blog Cocktail Party Dreams .