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Since graphene was first isolated in 2004, a Nobel Prize-winning feat that sparked a whole new exciting field of materials science research, 2D materials have had all kinds of suggested applications. Now, at the cutting edge of research, materials scientists are discovering that stacked layers of these atomically thin materials can open up a whole new world of fascinating and useful properties.

 

Graphene’s discovery was something of a throwback for physics. It was a far cry from the huge collaborations of LIGO (first to observe gravitational waves) and CERN (first to find the Higgs Boson), which require thousands of scientists and billion-dollar equipment. Professors Geim and Novoselov discovered graphene when experimenting with some sticky-tape and a block of graphite: amazingly, they were able to ‘exfoliate’ a layer a single atom thick.

 

The discovery may have been low-key and unexpected, but the subsequent hype over the properties of this material certainly was not. Graphene is ultra-light, immensely tough, yet flexible and stretchable. Often with excellent electronic properties, 2D materials can be highly conductive of electricity. Some 2D materials can be stacked together or combined to have tunable semiconductor bandgaps, which can make them the perfect materials for producing super-efficient solar panels, perfectly tuned to the wavelengths of light from the sun.

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