In fairy tales, third place is often the best: it’s usually the third casket that contains the treasure, and the third child who finds fame and fortune. And so it may be for graphene, the third and most recently discovered form of ‘new carbon’. The football-shaped fullerenes, discovered in 1985, and the hollow cylindrical carbon nanotubes2, first characterized in 1991, have so far had a limited impact on industry. But now graphene, a one-atom-thick flat sheet of carbon, seems to be surrounded by favorable omens — not the least of which is the speed with which groundbreaking experiments on its properties were rewarded with the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.
the material — essentially just an unrolled nanotube — has turned out to have properties just shy of miraculous: a single layer of graphene is simultaneously the world’s thinnest, strongest and stiffest material, as well as being an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity.