Engineers have to keep their eyes on what scientists are doing. Why? Because scientists could bring a new compound to the world that engineers have to factor into their designs. You never know what could be coming out of a lab next. One of these 'new-age' materials engineers could be seeing on a daily basis is graphene. Graphene is being researched closely around the world in many labs. The hope is that graphene can be engineered into many industries where strong, highly conductive, bendable materials are needed. That is what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been experimenting with.
Graphene, discovered in 2004, is a 2D material that is stronger than steel and far more lightweight. The prospect of using it is exciting engineers, but the research hasn't produced much promise yet.
Researchers at MIT say they made a breakthrough with a sheet of graphene and electricity. They have now concluded that a flow of electric current can "exceed the speed of slowed-down light" and achieve a phenomenon they are comparing to a sonic boom an airplane would create. They are calling it an optical "boom". According to the researchers, they are allegedly converting electricity into a visible radiation which can be controlled and is fast and efficient.
"Graphene has this ability to trap light, in modes we call surface plasmons. Plasmons are a kind of virtual particle that represents the oscillations of electrons on the surface. The speed of these plasmons through the graphene is a hundred times slower than light in free space," said Ido Kaminer, an author of the paper that he and a team published about these breakthroughs with graphene.
However, graphene along with the ability to trap light may also be able to generate light. Marin Soljačić, a professor of physics at MIT, explained: "This conversion [slowing down light on graphene sheet] because the electronic speed can approach light speed in graphene, breaking the 'light barrier'. Just as breaking the sound barrier generates a shockwave sound. In the case of graphene, this leads to the emission of a shockwave of light, in two dimensions. If this research goes any further we may see some movement in a light generation technology to compete against LED technology.
The researchers say that the generating of plasmons can theoretically be performed on microchip technology that exists today. This could have far-reaching benefits for electronic technology. Soljačić says that the implementation of graphene into microchip technology is theoretical right now. He said: "I have confidence that it should be doable within one to two years."