Graphene, a single layer of the common graphite, is a largely overlooked allotrope of carbon as compared to the more popular ‘eternal’ diamonds (even though the chemists out there will know that diamond is, contrary to the song Diamonds Are Forever by Sierra Leone, not stable at normal temperatures and pressures and will decay into graphite eventually, thus are not forever). It is being discussed as of current times the practical use for graphene – what it can achieve, how we can manipulate it for the benefit of technology and, arguably more importantly, the advance of science. It seems to be that this is to be the carbon allotrope of the decade, due to buckminsterfullerene (affectionately referred to as ‘buckyballs’ by various scientists, with the formula of C60 arranged in a truncated (T=3) icosahedron shape) being the allotrope of the 80s and consequently nanotubes of the 90s, particularly noted for its electric conductivity and efficiency, and now we are in the second decade of the 21st century, with the latest sheet-like allotrope of carbon.
Before I go any further, I would like to define an allotrope, probably the most frequently-used word in the concluding part of that paragraph. An allotrope is fairly simple – it is an arrangement of atoms (normally of an element) in a certain shape. For instance, if we are to take sulphur, it normally appears in its octagonal shape, S8, and these formations come about in an effort to make each atom in its most stable electronic state. If each sulphur atom in this allotrope shares a single electron with each of its neighbouring sulphur atoms (technically known as covalently bonding), each sulphur atom will have two extra electrons than it would on its own. Since electrons have a relative negative charge of -1, each atom will have a configuration of -2, the most stable electronic configuration for the elements in group 6 of the periodic table.