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For the past decade, graphene has been the undisputed champion of the material world. This single atom thick layer of carbon is the thinnest known material and the strongest ever measured; it is also a much better conductor of electricity than copper, able to sustain a current density six orders of magnitude higher. It has already netted its discoverers, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester in the UK, a Nobel prize in chemistry and is predicted to transform a suite of different technologies, from computing to coatings to chemical sensors.

The problem with being a champion, of course, is that you’re always being challenged by upstarts looking to usurp your position, and this is beginning to happen with graphene. Like graphene, these upstarts are two-dimensional crystals consisting of a thin layer of atoms, and while they possess many of the same properties as graphene they also boast a couple of new ones. Although they haven’t yet succeeded in pushing graphene off its perch, they’ve certainly managed to muscle their way on there as well.

‘When people were getting a bit tired with graphene, two-dimensional crystals appeared and brought a new rival into the area,’ says Novoselov. Far from being a threat, however, these new rivals could end up being the making of graphene.

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