The supermaterial that could launch a revolution – by Joseph Hall (Toronto Star – February 7, 2015)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Graphene, a material that can be derived from the lead in an ordinary pencil, is on the cusp of transforming everything from touchscreens to tennis rackets.

In a lab off of a shaft-like corridor below the University of Toronto’s old Lassonde Mining Building, PhD student Changhong Cao is employing some strikingly humble equipment: Scotch Tape.

Surrounded by a nuclear microscope and high-powered computers, the mechanical engineer uses the Christmas wrapping staple to peel off the top layers from a square of graphite the size of a Scrabble tile.

That’s the same sort of carbon-based graphite at the centre of every ordinary pencil you’ve ever used. Then, repeatedly folding fresh segments of the tape over the captured graphite smudge, Cao peels off more and more of the carbon layers originally deposited on the sticky surface.

The resulting material — known as graphene — is the strongest on Earth and may now be on the cusp of transforming the world.

“It truly has remarkable potential,” Chandra Veer Singh, a materials scientist at U of T, says of the substance.

That potential, many experts say, includes radical improvements to everything from touchscreens and computer chips to tennis rackets, window panes and solar panels.

Graphene is so thin it’s transparent. Yet it’s not only dozens of times stronger than steel, but possessed of a nearly miraculous array of electronic, thermal, anti-corrosive and chemically propitious properties.

No longer a ‘curiosity’

Mark Gallerneault is director of technology at a research lab in Kingston, Ont., that could soon launch Canada into the forefront of a coming graphene revolution.

“It’s going from a curiosity to something that people can actually work with,” says Gallernault, who works out of the Grafoid Global Technology Centre, just north of the city’s downtown.

Privately funded, Ottawa-based Grafoid opened the Kingston research and development plant last year in a lab abandoned by aluminum giant Alcan.

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