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Science Technology

Graphene Can Be Made With Table Sugar 142

Posted by timothy
from the let's-grid-it-on dept.
Zothecula writes with this snippet from Gizmag: "There's no doubt that the discovery of graphene is one sweet breakthrough. The remarkable material offers everything from faster, cooler electronics and cheaper lithium-ion batteries to faster DNA sequencing and single-atom transistors. Researchers at Rice University have made graphene even sweeter by developing a way to make pristine sheets of the one-atom-thick form of carbon from plain table sugar and other carbon-based substances. In another plus, the one-step process takes place at temperatures low enough to make the wonder material easy to manufacture."
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Graphene Can Be Made With Table Sugar

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  • Who'll profit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @04:10AM (#34252178) Homepage

    The graphene story is an excellent case study for innovation policy []

    Inventing graphene gets you nothing, but inventing applications for it will make you rich.

    Really a prizes system seems to be worth trying as a replacement for the patent system in some fields. How many millions does the patent system cost our governments? What if there were multi-million dollar prizes up for grabs, and freedom to operate for everyone, instead of monopolies?

    (Yeh, the lawyers won't help us lobby for this change...)

    • Re:Who'll profit? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @05:44AM (#34252430)

      Nobody invented graphene. It was discovered, rendering it basically unpatentable, so I'm not sure why not sure what that has to do with small patent holders. However with regards to your second point, inventing a clever way of creating it was worth the Nobel Prize [].

      • (Thanks for correcting my invent/discover slip.)

        The relation is that this discovery represents progress, and there was a prize on offer rather than a monopoly, and the discovery happened. That's an example of how a prize is sufficient.

        As for small and large companies, with patents, the latter win. The wiki page explains why. With prizes, everyone can compete.

        As for the patentability of substances: medicines are substances, and they get patented. Graphene could either be patented in the same way, or the

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          Oh yeah, I'm familiar with his quote about tying up an entire nation in lawyers' fees. I just don't think that graphene itself would've been patentable. Devices and methods, yes.

        • Who's going to fund all the prizes?

          • by hesiod (111176)

            More important to me is who determines what constitutes a prize-worthy discovery? And are they listed ahead of time, or are are they awarded to things no one had considered?

          • Any individual or group who has a desire to see a thing developed? Kind of obvious, no?

            If a goal is seen as worthy by enough people/groups, they'll be able to raise the money to offer the prize. For example:

            Say there is an open source project that I would like to see have certain features that I, personally, am unable to develop. I might offer a bounty for someone who develops that - and I could notify people who may also use this software and who might also want those features developed - and they might co

            • I was thinking something along the same lines, but what do you do on an international level? Just leave things to national governments to decide the prizes? I think some kind of collective effort would be good, like the prize they were trying to give to Grigory Perelman recently.. only in the field of engineering I'd imagine there are a lot more known challenges to be cracked than there are currently in maths.

              • You could get allied nations to commit to a prize pool I suppose? There are funding agreements in place for other things, so this might be something doable.

      • Re:Who'll profit? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Musically_ut (1054312) <musically.ut@ g m a i l .com> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @07:15AM (#34252678) Homepage Journal

        Nobody invented graphene. It was discovered, rendering it basically unpatentable, so I'm not sure why not sure what that has to do with small patent holders. However with regards to your second point, inventing a clever way of creating it was worth the Nobel Prize [].

        I would not say that Grephene was not patentable. The Nobel prize winners were on the verge of doing it, but they did not as they said in their interview [].

        And it seems they did so with good reason.

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          whaddya know. without patents, people actually develop on an idea and improve it!

          I swear, one day our intellectual property brigade (worldwide association of assholes/idiots/morons in their various high ranking capacities - IFPI, RIAA, MPAA, WIPO,ASCAP,BSA the list is beyond long) will catch on to this idea, years later - since it must be patented or something.

          • by fifedrum (611338)

            no, they never will catch on, they'll never change. The only option for us is the B ship. Send them ahead to prepare the next planet for the little people, the rest of us.

            • by poetmatt (793785)

              it will change. how fast depends on if people catch on in their lifetime or it happens when they die.

              as is, we're basically waiting for the people in leadership right now to die to fix a lot of situations - primarily politically. The question is whether the new guy has a clue.

      • Nobody invented graphene. It was discovered, rendering it basically unpatentable, ...

        While I do not wish to debate about "discover" vs. "invention," I suggest you take a look at this Slashdot post [].

        From TFS:

        'We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote.'"

    • Re:Who'll profit? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @06:00AM (#34252478)

      Against Intellectual Property by Boldrin and Leving is a good book: []

      However, you say how much money Patents cost the Government? It costs them nothing (well something but it's recuperated in taxes, fees, and corporate income tax) -- the real cost is societal.

      However, corps are still under the dream that China will play nice and all that, and they'll get into that huge market. The truth is, countries don't follow IP laws until it is in their interest to do so (America did the same in her early history) and that means when China is ready to follow IP laws, it's only because they'll be so invested and huge that they'll crush us in our own game.

      • > how much money Patents cost the Government? It costs them nothing

        Really? Can you point me to where I can find this? (If it's in that book, which chapter?)

        I've been looking for this info for a while, but I need something to back it up.

        The USPTO is always talking about needing their budget expanded. Aren't they talking about a budget given to them by the federal govt? The societal costs are certainly larger than the financial costs (if any) to the government, but I'd like to get all the numbers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)
          The US patent office does not get to keep patent fees. They go into the general budget and then some percentage is returned by the federal government. This percentage may be greater than 100%, in which case they'd be costing money, but given that they go up to tens of thousands of dollars for patents more than a decade old it seems unlikely.
        • by Grond (15515) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:29AM (#34253914) Homepage

          The PTO is funded by user fees. The problem is that if they take in more fees than they budgeted for, the rest goes to general revenue to be spent on other things. When the economy turns downward, the PTO ends up taking in less in fees than its fixed costs (building maintenance, salaries, etc). The 'budget expansion' you're referring to is a plan to essentially refund some of the almost $1 billion in excess fees that have been taken from the PTO over the years. Part of it would make up for the current budget shortfall and part of it would be used for infrastructure improvements like IT upgrades.

          You can find out all you want to know (and more!) about the PTO budget in its 2011 budget report []. On page 2 you'll find "USPTO is a fully fee funded agency (with fee collections appropriated by the Congress), and does not rely on regular funding from the General Treasury."

          For those of you wondering how the PTO can have budget problems when the number of patent applications is at or near record highs: the cost of examination is not fully paid for on the front end. Much of the cost is made up on the back end through maintenance fees. The problem right now has more to do with patent holders letting patents go abandoned (and thus not paying maintenance fees) than it does application rates dropping off. This is discussed in page 7 of the budget report I linked.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        us wants china to follow our system because we're trying to get the hell out of it - it's like putting poison in china's waters that we've had for years and are getting rid of.

        meanwhile, patents are not free of non-societal cost. there is a real financial cost for all the legal work that gets tied up in the system from patents, which has shot up substantially.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        However, you say how much money Patents cost the Government? It costs them nothing (well something but it's recuperated in taxes, fees, and corporate income tax) -- the real cost is societal.

        - that's a fallacy. If the gov't wanted to maximize its taxes through taxing sales (but not income), they'd allow the free market to work.

        Of-course most gov'ts tax income, so they prefer monopolies, so it makes sense for them to run protection rackets, which are patents etc. The monopolies make so much money on these things, that it's just easier to tax their incomes, and nobody in gov't is an economic genius that can understand that in a free market with no regulations there would be much more taxable sa

        • by KarrdeSW (996917)

          nobody in gov't is an economic genius that can understand that in a free market with no regulations there would be much more taxable sales activity going on.

          Okay... Can you explain what about a free market makes me want to buy more random shit? I know there are easy-to-identify differences between free and regulated markets in many areas, but I really don't see how it directly impacts my spending habits (or most other people's).

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Why the hostility?

            Anyway, it's a very very easy thing to understand. Throughout the 19 century the prices on all manufactured goods, food, clothing, energy, tools and then later machines (like sewing machines, washing machines) housing, medical attention, prices were going down.

            That's right. Do you know how the old generations of current times likes to remember how things cost LESS during their time or their parents/grandparents time?

            Well, this is what the 1913 creation of the Fed caused - rise in prices t

            • by KarrdeSW (996917)
              No hostility actually intended, I just swear like a sailor. Apologies if it came off that way.
          • by roman_mir (125474)

            sorry, cut off the previous post for some reason: ....the same in thing in 1929 as they did in 1920, the recession would have been over in 1 year in 1929, just like it was in 1920.

            The difference was that in 1920 the gov't cut spending by 70%.

            In 1929 they instead started printing money, doing various gov't programs....

            So by causing prices to increase all the time through regulation and anti-competitive anti-free market regulations and subsidies and laws, and at the same time causing inflation through money

      • The Government pretty much behaves as a corporation or even an individual and among other activities it purchases items for use. Like any other individual or corporation many of the items it purchases might be less expensive if the barriers to market entry like patents didn't exist, or conversely they might be more expensive due to less competitors entering a market without barriers and their almost guaranteed profits. On one hand the item might not even exist without patent protection making the shifting t

      • by Grond (15515)

        The book is Against Intellectual Monopoly by Boldrin and Levine, and it has been criticized for both factual and logical errors. One example is the article Watt, Again? Boldrin and Levine Still Exaggerate the Adverse Effect of Patents on the Progress of Steam Power [] :

        In an earlier comment on Boldrin and Levine’s 2003 lecture on patents and their effect on technology, we observed that their account of James Watt’s influence on the progress of steam technology contained factual errors which tende

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "it's only because they'll be so invested and huge that they'll crush us in our own game."

        At this point, only being crushed will get any attention that matters because the system is rotten and the public find ignorance delectable.

        China, by the way, benefited from being reformatted by WWII and the Communist takover, which smashed decayed social structures.

        The US doesn't need a Mao, but a national calamity is perhaps in order.

        • by jackbird (721605)
          It also killed tens of millions and wrecked the environment. It's rather cavalier to call it a benefit without at least a disclaimer.
    • by gafisher (865473)
      The best "prize" system for encouraging innovation already exists, and you named it: "... inventing applications for it will make you rich." The patent system as it exists today functions almost exactly opposite to what it was intended to do, which was to share knowledge and ... encourage innovation. One severe failing in that system is the tolerance of preclusive patents, those filed specifically and only to keep a discovery off the market or to keep others from applying concepts which might compete with
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by biryokumaru (822262)
        Well, actually, the present system only rewards marketable advances. What about people who do pure science? If you create a system that only rewards greedy people who can only look ahead for the short time until their patent runs out, then those people will have all the power. Maybe we should re-gear the system to reward people for innovating, not for coming up with a new, clever way to overcharge people.
    • How will the prize be funded? Who will set the prizes? Who would be able to decide, in advance, which discoveries/inventions will be useful five - let alone ten or twenty - years down the line?

      Markets aren't perfect but I'd trust them over a committee of well-connected placemen. Isn't that how science in the USSR worked?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      The only things wrong with patents are that they are granted far too freely, for obvious things, cost way too much to get, and that software can hold both patent and copyright. IMO there should be no software patents.

  • by neanderlander (637187) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @04:11AM (#34252182)
    On a side note, Andre Geim supposedly designed the first graphene production process like this: his students used scotch-tape to pull thin layers of graphite from a piece of paper with pencil drawings on it.
  • does this mean that they'll be able to print graphene interconnects between transistors?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      Not yet. First they have to figure out how to either create it on top of silicon dioxide or make it elsewhere and transfer it there. Getting the formation temperature down below the point where doped silicon is damaged is progress, though.

  • You can make graphene by peeling scotch tape off a cup cake?

    Jeph Jacques would be amused. :P

  • Sweet (Score:2, Interesting)

    by beuges (613130)

    Now all we need is to figure a way to get all the cabon-laden pollution to be recycled into graphene and we'll be all set. How plausible would that be once the technology is refined enough?

    • We need the energy to split it off the oxygen first. So nuclear or solar power would have to be more available first.

    • Re:Sweet (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @05:47AM (#34252440)

      "CO2 -> material" is a problem of energy rather than chemistry. The energy generated by making CO2 is less than the energy needed to turn that CO2 into something useful (assuming useful materials have a substantially higher enthalpy of formation and lower entropy than fuels). So you have to have an energy source which is capable of replacing fossil fuels first.

      • by slim (1652)

        So you have to have an energy source which is capable of replacing fossil fuels first.

        The only real problem with existing renewable energy sources is geographical and temporal availability. e.g. for wind, it's not always windy enough, and in some places it's never windy enough, making it a challenge to get a consistent power supply where it's needed.

        For a CO2 -> material plant, it seems to be you could build it where the energy is, and run it at a variable rate, depending on what energy nature throws your way.

        Next challenge, getting the CO2 in, and shipping the carbon products out. There

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          As a partial scrubber that happens to make useful stuff, that'd work. I parsed beuges' comment as asking if we could pull off a complete scrubbing of our excess CO2 from the atmosphere, which isn't an option. You reach the stage where you're able to completely replace your fossil fuels with a new energy source, before you reach the stage where you keep your fossil fuels and clean up using a CO2->materials process.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Or just skip the middle and use the renewable (well net CO2 increasing I guess is more what is being talked about) energy sources for energy and not produce that CO2 in the first place...

        • by CCarrot (1562079)

          The only real problem with existing renewable energy sources is geographical and temporal availability.

          Okay, this made me shake my head. It's like saying 'the only problem with food production in third-world countries is geographical and temporal availability.'

          Yes. It is a problem, a major one. It's not the 'only' problem with current renewable-energy technology, but the 'geographical and temporal availability' of food issue hasn't been solved yet, last I heard, and we've been working on that a heck of a lot longer...

          While it's true that people can live without 'electricity' a lot easier than they can liv

          • by slim (1652)

            I'm not sure where we're disagreeing, unless it's a bit of linguistic crossed wiring.

            We have enough food for everyone in the world; we have a real problem transporting food to the people who need it. It's a hard problem.

            Likewise, there's enough sun/wind/etc. to provide all the energy we need. The existing technology to harvest that energy is mature enough to work. We have a real problem transporting that energy to the people who need it.

            • by CCarrot (1562079)

              Sorry, we're not really disagreeing, I was just reacting to the phrase "the only real problem with...". It seems to trivialize what are actually large and currently insurmountable problems with renewable energy technologies (other than hydro, for the most part).

              All the subsidies and legislation in the world won't overcome these basic issues of availability and reliability for wind and solar. The only thing that would make them viable as stand-alone energy sources is some vast improvements in efficiency and

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So you have to have an energy source which is capable of replacing fossil fuels first.

        Done. It's not a source, it's a solution. You can only get out of the system what you put into it.

        I think that what it actually needed is for us geeks to stop lining up to work in the big labs, and start our own businesses. We have the intellect and the drive to succeed, and most developed nations have engineered conveyor belts of investor capital that start rolling at the sight of a good idea and a capable leader. A lesson that cost 700 billion USD can be retold by the recently moribund and destitute homel

      • this is going to involve needle snakes and gorillas...
    • by gafisher (865473)
      Unless we find enough applications to make graphene really useful, it would just be an expensive way to store carbon. It would almost certainly be cheaper to turn pollution into pencil lead.
      • There are a vast number of applications for graphene which will become practical as soon as it can be made inexpensively.

  • DIY? (Score:3, Funny)

    by siddesu (698447) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @06:31AM (#34252544)

    Can I make it at home? And use it in a 3D printer?

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      It's way too thin to make sense in a 3D printer.

      • by jittles (1613415)

        It's way too thin to make sense in a 3D printer.

        That's funny... because you were way too thick to get his joke! :P

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by marcosdumay (620877)

      You can make it at home, but an 800C furnance may be more expensive than you think (but still within reach of an individual). You'll probably no be able to do anything usefull with it (on a 3D printer or anywhere else).

  • Finally -- a useful application for table sugar!
  • Single Atoms? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ramble (940291) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @07:38AM (#34252774) Homepage
    Single atom transistors? Where are they getting this from? I do work with graphene and to introduce a bandgap (either in single or multilayer sheets) you need to introduce an energy difference between atoms - in the case of a single sheet you do that by using a substrate with a similar structure (e.g. Boron nitride) so the two basis atoms of graphene experience different energies or in the case of multiple sheets you can use an electric field ala FETs. In no way could you do this with a single atom as graphene has no band gap and is thus a metal normally.
    • On the subject of multiple sheet configurations of graphene, something also mentioned in the article, I've been curious for awhile about the point that distinguishes "stacked graphene" from graphite. About how many layers of graphene planes are necessary before the material behaves more like graphite than graphene? Also, given that bulk graphite and graphene monolayers have quite different chemical and physical properties, is the transition abrupt, or are there intermediate states?
  • of these sweet puns has soured my interest in graphene.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun