5816_largeManchester, England – A super-thin material called graphene has the potential to replace carbon fibre in light, fuel-efficient automobiles and aircraft, according to new research at England’s University of Manchester. The new material is just one atom thick.

Discovered in 2004 by physicists at the university, graphene is a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms that resembles chicken wire. As well as being an excellent conductor of electrons, with the potential to replace silicon, graphene is also one of the stiffest-known materials. A recent study found it to be the strongest material ever measured, which led researchers to investigate its behaviour and properties when mixed with other materials.

Researchers put a single graphene sheet between two layers of polymer and measured how the carbon bonds responded when the graphene was stretched, calculating the improvement in stiffness the graphene gave to the polymer composite.

“We have found the theories developed for large materials still hold even when the material is just one atom thick,” said Professor Robert Young of the School of Materials. “We can now start to use the decades of research into traditional carbon fibre composites to design the next generation of graphene-based materials.”

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