By Robert McGowan
Have you heard or read about graphene?
If you haven’t, it is a newly discovered and very special form of graphite. This is a special breakthrough — so special that two scientists who were the first to produce single-atomic thick crystals of graphite were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Yes, the information in this column is taken from your computer’s “Google.” I haven’t seen it in other sources, but, yes, I am sure it is there. And, yes, the advanced technology in the coming years is most interesting.
This example of progress in technology is almost “mind-boggling.” The Great Ages of human progress are fascinating. The Stone Age lasted 34 million years; the Bronze Age, 2,500 years; the Iron Age, 500 years; the Industrial Revolution, 80 years; the Information Revolution, 20 years. The computer processing power doubles every 18 months.
And, now — graphene.
Graphene is a very special form of graphite. It is a sheet of carbon atoms 150,000 times thinner than a human hair. Under a powerful microscope it looks like chicken wire, but it is 200 times stronger than structural steel. It is so strong that you could suspend an elephant from a single strand of graphite, and the strand would not break. And it is extremely lightweight. (This is, indeed, mind-boggling, isn’t it!)
The article I read states that soon everything from bicycles and boats to airplanes and cars could be made of composites of graphite, and when this happens their energy and durability could skyrocket.
When I read this information, it occurred to me that it is almost unbelievable, and it occurred to me that the people living in the early years of even the 19th Century would hardly believe the scientific developments of our century. And, really, we of this century hardly realize the development of the days of this century.
Even a graphite credit card could store as much information as today’s computers. And I think that many of us will find even the simplest computers and telephones to operate almost beyond imagination. I can remember ringing the telephone hanging on the wall and the operator asking, “Number, please.”
The article about graphite states that these new molecular structures will soon change the way we live — stronger houses, tougher cars, healthier humans, the diagnosis of diseases in seconds, longer and healthier lives, and the elimination of breast cancer or prostate tumors with a simple injection or by swallowing a graphite-charged pill.
Yes, all these technological changes and innovations will transform the world.
But the article didn’t mention that, along with these probably worthwhile changes, man will find more efficient ways in which to kill one another in new wars. Just imagine!
From clubs to crossbows, to rockets and bombs from airplanes, to atomic weapons. Yes, a drone carrying an atomic weapon, guided by a button pushed by one person a thousand miles away —killing thousands.
Yep, that’s progress!
Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at the University of Memphis.