These photos tell a simple story: a carefully shaped synthetic gel in which atoms and molecules have been manufactured into simple nanostructures.
Mentions of this compound get me salivating: not only can graphene be grown in this way, it can also be mounted on hydroxyapatite, a type of mineral. So much for manipulating a material through the manipulation of materials.
So far, graphene has mainly been produced through the same basic process, but these new photos come with pretty eye-popping stories of how novel materials could be grown through different biological processes, with an overall goal of creating for the first time ever nanoribbons, which are nanoscale compounds of graphene.
Graphene nano-spheres actually have stunning properties: they’re the most conductive material in the world, very strong, very light, have unique optics properties, and can store up to 30 percent more energy than silicon. At one time, it seemed as if they might be the future of computers, but now that artificial intelligence is starting to take off, they may soon be offering a better alternative to silicon.
At the moment, they’re also very expensive: most of their potential uses, including electronics, rely on them being cheaper than silicon, at least in part because the actual form of their applications requires them to be thinner than silicon.
Nanofibers could be a potential solution for all of that, because they might be able to keep their cost in line with silicon by being cheaper than germanium — without sacrificing the incredible strength and electron mobility that come with graphene.
But no one has nailed down exactly how they would work. And even though this particular graphene combination was engineered on a computer program, the process it used to grow them still remains mysterious. You can also see that in its photos, a material that’s really cheap (plus small) isn’t really cheap at all — the components required to make it only add up to about 10 cents a gram (which, presumably, makes the end product cheaper than silicon). The only way to put a price on it is to try to make it, and you may not end up being able to do that in the way you need.
As with most complex chemistry, this is one area where something like quantum mechanics might well be the key, and perhaps even the limiting factor. Maybe the properties that you’re trying to achieve aren’t actually possible on a scale that we could even imagine at this point, and maybe even a one-tenth-of-a-trillionth-protrusion process is probably more than enough to achieve the objectives you’re working for. Either way, this is an exciting area — if we can figure out what it is, and how to do it, it could easily be humanity’s first true true quantum revolution.