Graphene is a super strong sheet of carbon that's only one-atom thick. Since its discovery less than a decade ago, researchers have learned that graphene conducts heat and electricity extremely well. It's also transparent and highly flexible, making it an ideal candidate for making better electronics and other devices.
Now a team that includes Nobel Prize–winning graphene researchers Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov has improved graphene's ability to act as a photodetector. They combined graphene with metallic nanostructures to get a 20-fold enhancement in its ability to absorb light. [T. J. Echtermeyer et al., "Strong plasmonic enhancement of photovoltage in graphene," in Nature Communications]
Scientists already knew that adding certain materials to graphene could increase its light-harvesting efficiency and its ability to turn those photons into electricity. But they didn't realize just how much better the carbon sheets could get. They now believe that graphene could be the foundation for optical communications that are at least 10 and maybe even 100 times faster than the fastest data transfer rates available today.
In which case, the speed increase we got by moving from dial-up to broadband may have just been shifting into second gear on the information superhighway.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.]