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Pure Carbon to the Rescue

I don’t love my Blackberry quite as much as I love my iPad, but both are utterly indispensable. The reason for the affection mismatch isn’t because one device is more capable than the other—I can access email, internet, and books on either. The Blackberry screen is just too small, though, for comfortable reading of more than a couple of minutes. But since I can’t make calls on the iPad both apparatuses are needed, especially when travelling.

Both the iPad and the cell phone are hard, very stiff, and prone to damage if dropped. But suppose they could be made of a flexible material that could be rolled up, squished at will, and stuck anywhere? Sounds impossible based on current technology, but a group of chemists based in Korea and Illinois have an intriguing new possibility—graphene transistors. Graphene is a carbon structure that forms one-atom thick sheets and won its discoverers the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The new report in Nano Letters details the creation of patterned graphene films that are stretchable, printable, and transparent, and that can be fabricated into field-effect transistor arrays. The authors claim, perhaps with a tad of hyperbole, the new stuff has better optical, mechanical, and electrical properties than other known semiconductors and could form the basis for stretchable electronic devices.

Of course at this point there isn’t a prayer of cramming as many transistors into as small a space as needed to power an iPad. But at least I can now imagine the prospect of someday being able to casually roll the device up, slip it in my pocket, and never worry again about breaking the darn thing.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Posted In: Technology

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