ON October 6, over 100 members and guests enjoyed a sparkling talk on graphene – sheet carbon only one atom thick, which will be the miracle material of tomorrow.

Scientists 50 years ago knew that graphite (ordinary pencil lead) contains layers of graphene like a deck of cards. They understood it theoretically, but said graphene would be unstable and impossible to make. Dr Vijayaraghavan of Manchester University explained how Geim and Novoselov, two Russian scientists at the University, stubbornly refused to accept this “impossibility”, peeled off a layer of graphene, proved its stability and won the Nobel Prize.

Graphene’s properties are superlative. It is top of the list for conducting heat and electricity, elasticity mechanical strength and impermeability. It can be quickly switched between transparent and opaque. Most of the significant research has been done in Manchester. There remains an immense field of undiscovered properties.

As a transparent conductor, graphene will be ideal for touch screens. It is potentially cheaper than other materials, foldable and bendable into an electronic newspaper, for example.

There will be thousands of applications in screens, photosensors, electronics and batteries. Graphene can be used to strengthen or coat other materials, as a filter medium and in solar cells.

The next steps will be to insert other atoms such as hydrogen, oxygen and fluorine into the carbon sheet, and to investigate other compounds of boron, nitrogen and sulphur which form sheets one atom thick. Different sheets could be conductors, semiconductors or insulators enabling researchers to tailor the properties of combined thin sheets to particular uses.

The speaker said the research would be carried forward by Manchester University’s new Centre for Mesoscience and Nanotechnology with world-wide collaborative links.

He invited his audience to come and see more at the Manchester Science Fair on October 25.