The wonder stuff: why graphene’s everywhere this summer

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Editor's Note

"From tennis courts to running tracks, and from artists’ canvases to recording studios, Graphene is everywhere right now. "

While Andy Murray may be missing from the courts at Wimbledon this summer, another British legend has made a return appearance – graphene.

The advanced material, first isolated here at The University of Manchester, is featured in the design of certain tennis racquets and helps players add power to their play. The inclusion of graphene in the frame helps to absorb the shock and vibration when the racquet makes contact with the ball, which adds to the player’s control.

Run to the hills

graphene trail running shoes

And the green courts of Wimbledon are not the only sporting arena where you’ll find graphene this summer. Last month, the world’s first graphene-infused sports shoes were unveiled. A joint collaboration between the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University and trail running shoe brand inov-8 has resulted in a pair of trainers with the world’s toughest grip.

Scientists at the NGI have created a rubber that’s enhanced with graphene, making the soles of the trainers far more hardwearing than other running shoes – but without losing any of the grip. In fact, the new running shoes are 50 per cent stronger, 50 per cent harder wearing and 50 per cent more elastic than the closest competitor.

Speaking at the time, Michael Price, inov-8 Product and Marketing Director, said: “Through intensive research, hundreds of prototypes and thousands of hours of testing in both the field and laboratory, athletes now no longer need to compromise.”

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Reader in Nanomaterials at The University of Manchester, added: “Graphene is a versatile material with limitless potential and in coming years we expect to deliver graphene technologies in composites, coatings and sensors, many of which will further revolutionise sports products.”

And it seems the potential of graphene really knows no limits, as it’s not only revolutionising the sports world but the arts too.

Artists’ muse

graphene block

The Hexagon Experiment is part of The Great Exhibition of the North and will comprise a series of Friday night experiments. These are based on the iconic experiments conducted after hours by Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov – which resulted in the isolation of graphene. Each of the events will be led by the women who are steering innovation in science, art and music right now.

Among them are artist Mary Griffiths and composer Sara Lowes, who will both present their graphene-inspired work at an event presented by DJ and television personality Lauren Laverne. The evening is entitled ‘Adventures in Flatland’ in reference to the fact that graphene is a 2D material, measuring just one atom in thickness.

While it is incredibly thin and lightweight, graphene is also extraordinarily strong – 200 times stronger than steel, in fact. And as if that wasn’t enough, it is also an exceptionally efficient conductor of both heat and electricity. All this and it was isolated with a roll of Sellotape and a pencil!

Summer of graphene

graphene lightbulbs

Two-dimensional though it may be, graphene is a long way from falling flat. Just 14 years after it was first isolated and eight years after Professors Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize for the breakthrough, graphene is popping up everywhere.

As part of the Great Exhibition, it will be on display in the form of the Little Black Graphene Dress at intu Trafford Centre. This frock does more than look good – the graphene in it powers a set of LED lights using the wearer’s own breathing. Who needs a mood ring?

Then there’re the light bulbs that stay brighter for longer while remaining cool enough to touch. They will also be on display as part of the Great Exhibition, and will form the centrepiece of an exhibition on the history of the light bulb.

Graphene may seem like it’s everywhere this summer, but this is only the beginning. Just wait – soon it really will be everywhere.


Words – Hayley Cox

Images – The University of Manchester, Jodi Green