Graphene by Les Johnson & Joseph E. Neany (book review).

February 20, 2018 | By | Reply More

If you thought graphene was a newly discovered form of carbon, reading Les Johnson and Joseph E. Neany’s book on the subject places its earliest appearance to the mid-1920s. In case you didn’t know, carbon comes in many forms of allotropes. You’re all familiar with coal and diamond, but its molecular pattern offering up two spare electron slots makes it the key element in benzene rings in organic chemistry and how it chains with other elements. However, this bonding also provides strong links between itself as well and could make strong pancake layers a molecule thick. Over the years, the means of making use of this version of carbon has developed along with equipment and how conductive it is. Something that struck me was the 4 way options it suggested would make it of more use in computer CPU gates where silicon has only 3 options.

I’m side-tracking. It’s only since the 1990s, that uses for graphene have come about. Knowing what it was and making use of it are two different things. Certainly, our technology even then wasn’t quite up to it but with so many different people working on it, there then were a lot of breakthroughs in getting some consistent material. It is with Additive Manufacturing, which we call 3-D printing, that graphene use came into its own as an additive. Graphene is 10 times the strength of steel and 1/20 its mass so you can see its importance even if making layers of it is a little problematic.

The authors compare to how other materials started from small beginnings to world-wide use before pointing out areas graphene can be used once the problems of making molecule thin layers cheaper. They also don’t forget doping, that is adding other elements into graphene to do other things within its structure. One odd thing when it comes to adding graphene to solar panels to improve heat absorption and the next how the beating of rain on graphene can be turned into energy. Surely it would make sense to combine the two together so even on a bad weather day such panels could be making energy.

The conductivity of graphene should not be under-estimated. I think the biggest surprise was seeing the number of patents going up geometrically. Clearly, companies are seeing dollar or pound signs and covering their backs so they can cash in on it but there must be more implementation. For SF writers, I suspect this will add an extra detail to your stories as the material is being used. Considering that in Larry Niven’s ‘Known Space’ books there were transparent spaceships, you have to wonder on the possibilities of that now with graphene.

In fact, there are several references to Science Fiction, but these are either bad examples or getting the film wrong. With the latter, the powerloader is in ‘Aliens’ not ‘Alien’. Choosing the Borg from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ or even the Cybermen from ‘Doctor Who’ is hardly good examples to convince people of the uses of graphene with making cyborgs. The key problem with current bionic surgery is the weight of the limbs and the conductivity of electricity. Graphene’s strength and energy conductivity can do both. They might have looked at ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and ‘The Bionic Woman’ as better examples of what it could mean.

As to using a sugar detecting contact lens for Type One diabetics, as one myself I can see a lot of problems with it, eye damage being the worse thing. I think it’s a a lot safer to lancet blood from a finger. Mind you, considering how fine graphene can be, it would probably make a better lancet. Did I say it can also be very sharp?

Although much of this book is spent on future applications, you do get a lot of examples of how materials have revolutionised our society. The authors think the same will apply with graphene when the problems of mass cheap manufacture are resolved. If anything, I don’t think they’ve explored enough but this is sure to be the providence of Science Fiction writers. Microfilaments, again as used in Larry Niven’s ‘Known Space’ books, could actually be a reality. If anything, SF seems to be ahead in all but name on some of the material uses. Here’s to a graphene future.

GF Willmetts

February 2018

(pub: Prometheus Books. 269 page enlarged paperback. Price: $19.00 (US), $20.00 (CAN), £11.60 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-325-3)

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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