Science in Society

Graphene blended into perfection

News this week that graphene has been created in a kitchen blender made me want to talk about just how fantastic this carbon creation is.

At a molecular level, graphene looks like a long fence of chickenwire. It is a single layer of graphite, latticing into hexagons tipped with a head atom of carbon. Graphene is only one atom thick yet it is stiffer than diamond.

Furthermore, its structure has no band gap (the gap between the energy of an electron when it is bound to an atom) meaning that it can be used to make photovoltaic power cells not affected by electron loss.

If you get a sheet of graphene large enough, this would be the result. Image credit: exremetech.com

If you get a sheet of graphene large enough, this would be the result. Image credit: exremetech.com

While this alone is able to dazzle the scientific community, Dr Leonid Ponomarenko from  Manchester University has concluded graphene has “the highest current density (a million times that of copper) at room temperature; the highest intrinsic mobility (100 times more than in silicon); and conducts electricity in the limit of no electrons.”

Properties such as this would be crucial in the advancement of everyday technology used by all of us, especially if graphene could be utilized as a general electrical conductor.

If all of this information does not captivate your imagination, then ponder the fact that graphene is only one atom thick yet is visible with the naked eye. Whilst it is transparent (only absorbing around two percent of reflective light) you can still hold it against another object and be able to observe it, just like glass.

The BBC reported yesterday that graphene was made in a kitchen blender. The rapidly rotating blades of the blender were able to divide the layers of graphite and break up the carbon molecules into graphene.

It can be difficult to synthesise graphene because it is only one atom thick. So getting the layers to come apart has given some interesting solutions such as scientists using sticky tape to peel individual layers from a graphite pencil.

The blender study was published in the journal Nature Materials.

While this topic may seem novel, it is an important step to developing industrially scalable methods for making graphene.

This TEDx talk explains graphene science and its uses. Mikael Fogelstrom gives a great 20-minute lecture and I encourage you to watch it if you have the time:

[Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons]

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Cosmos: Carl Sagan’s visionary series returns [Review Part Two]

This is part two in my miniature review of the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey  which aired on March 9. This is a re-imagining of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos which ran in 1980. If you have not already, read the first part of my overview here.

The CGI and Visuals

The American networks pushed the marketing for Cosmos for months. They had two versions of a teaser airing in the ad breaks of their 10 channels for what seemed like eons. The trailers were flashy; filled with what I presume to be the most elaborate computer-generated graphics that will appear in the show. This made me concerned that the actual series would be overloaded with CGI and not with actual footage showing the wonders of the universe as they appear in real life. Thankfully, the show found the perfect balance.

The space exploration sequence early in the first episode was FX heavy but this is to be expected. I foresee the spectacle to diminish throughout the season to remain in budget. It is a television show after all.

The Pacing and Tone

Yet again, I have only praise for the consistency of the first episode of Cosmos. The show quickly found its footing to deliver fascinating information, under the 40-minute prime time constraint, while still keeping viewers interested. I predict the series will have a very dynamic approach to topics much like A Personal Voyage, where the enthusiasm for scientific discovery is portrayed in order to appeal to people’s genuine curiosity for the universe around them.

Tyson 2009
Neil deGrasse Tyson: your personal astrophysicist (Credit: wikipedia/commons)

The Host

Some know him for his science activism, some for his work in cosmology. Many even know his face because of the popular internet meme. Whatever way you are aware of Neil deGrasse Tyson, he is the host for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. And he is the perfect man for the job.

With Carl Sagan himself hosting the original series several decades ago, Tyson had big shoes to fill. Sagan maintained such presence on screen and his delivery of scientific concepts allowed people to connect with him while they learned.

Tyson does not compare to Sagan but that is the best thing about this change. He takes a very different approach to hosting his Cosmos. Instead of holding your hand through the journey (like Sagan), Tyson guides you though the episode and brings his own passion to the screen.

Neil deGrasse Tyson promoting Cosmos for National Geographic (Credit: wikipedia/commons_
Neil deGrasse Tyson promoting Cosmos for National Geographic (Credit: wikipedia/commons)

Overall, episode one of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey was a huge success. My standards were very high and I had a major worry the show would be a let down after the historic 80s series. Instead of breaking down by expectations, it blew them away (in the most positive method imaginable, of course). I expect many others to feel the same way I do about the reboot too. Buckle up, there is another twelve episodes to go. But this time it is more than a personal voyage, we are a part of this odyssey together.

This will be my last mention of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey for the time being. Once the series ends in three months time, I will do a series overview to round up my thoughts on the success of the show.  

Cosmos: Carl Sagan’s visionary series returns [Review Part One]

“This is the cosmos: a network of a hundred billion galaxies… and it is the greatest story science has ever told.”

It was one of the most loved shows of the 20th century. It inspired an entire generation of scientists to explore the universe. It gave millions an insight into the marvellous complexity of the reality around us. It was Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Now it has been given new life to achieve all of these goals again, today.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey aired for the first time last night across 10 of the biggest American networks. The reboot, hosted by science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson, ran for just shy of an hour and began the first of a 13-part journey into exploring the cosmos.

I wanted to give my personal thoughts on how successful the first episode actually was. The first Cosmos by Carl Sagan in the 1980s was a huge influence on me so the 2013 version  has a lot to live up to. Did it?

The Opening Minutes

Tyson stands on the very same shoreline cliffs that Sagan stood more than three decades before. This begins a perfectly nostalgic undertone to the show, establishing Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey as a re-imagining of A Personal Voyage. It is not a scene by scene recreation, but throughout the episode, Cosmos keen-eyes will see nods to the original -certain phrases from Sagan are repeated by Tyson, the Ship of the Imagination, the cosmic calendar e.t.c.

It was good to see the show did not open immediately with flashy CGI or imposing text overlay,  but a wave crashing against the beach to symbolise how this series’ journey will take viewers beyond the shore of the cosmic oceanon which humanity stands.

The content (i.e. The science)

I was initially worried the producers of the show would cram too much information from an overly diverse range of topics to hook viewers on shallow knowledge, but this was not the case. The opening episode dealt with only certain issues while being able to raise the interest in other topics that will be expanded upon in later episodes.

One of the main sections of the premier concerned the story of Giordano Bruno, Italian philosopher of the 1500’s. In a beautifully crafted interpretative animation (made by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane and his animation studio), Bruno’s tribulations as an open-minded believer are covered with a shockingly dark tone. His prosecution and eventual execution by the Church uncovers just how abusive religion was to the expansion of science back in the 16th century. This segment plays well into the first episode’s theme of having a curious mind and willingness to explore other possibilities outside of the accepted truth.

The cosmic calendar made a spectacular return from the 80’s version of the show. This concept neatly summarises the 13.78 billion years of our universe by condensing events to one calendar year- from the Big Bang at midnight on January 1, to the present day at 23.59pm on December 31. On this scale, our industrial revolution happened just 14 seconds ago.

While the complexity of the science covered in this first episode hardly surpassed high-school standard, it was nevertheless engaging and informative, particularly for those who may not have any interest in the sciences.

This post is the first in a two-part review. See part two here.