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Researchers Make Graphene From Girl Scout Cookies 129

Posted by timothy
from the why-the-aliens-need-our-resources dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Last year we learned that the miracle material graphene could be made from common table sugar, and now researchers at Rice University have taken the discovery one step further by literally baking it from a box of girl scout cookies. A group of graduate students led by chemist James Tour recently teamed up with Houston Girl Scout troop 25080 to perform the feat using a single box of Trefoil cookies — which could potentially yield $15 billion worth of graphene."
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Researchers Make Graphene From Girl Scout Cookies

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  • How can it be so valuable if it is so seemingly simple to make?
    • 1) It hasn't always been easy to make.
      2) There is a huge difference between making something in a lab and doing it in production.
      3) Say he made $5000 worth of it from a part of a cookie. It could have easily cost him $10,000 to make. See also fusion reactors.

      • by sycodon (149926) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:00AM (#37067204)

        Judging from how much carbon I create whenever I try baking, I"m sure there has to be a butt load of graphene in the oven

        • I'm pretty sure you don't *create* any carbon when you are baking.

          • He didn't really say -what- he was cooking, or what he was cooking with. His oven might be a "Easy supernova oven 2000"
            • by suutar (1860506)
              nah, you can get carbon from regular fusion. It's getting past iron that gets tricky...
      • Re:Supply and demand (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Aladrin (926209) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:15AM (#37067322)

        "calculated that at the then-commercial rate for pristine graphene -- $250 for a two-inch square -- a box of traditional shortbread Girl Scout Cookies could turn a $15 billion profit."

        So it definitely doesn't cost more to make than it's worth. They've already done the calculation and the $15bil was just the profit.

        • They've already done the calculation and the $15bil was just the profit.

          Youll note that the price is for "pristine" graphene, and parents point was that if $5 investment could really turn into $15bil, everyone would be doing it. That is, in fact, capitalism at its best.

          • But then that $15 billion dollars everybody would be making wouldn't buy you a loaf of bread at the grocery store.

            • No, the price of graphene would fall. That is generally how it works.

              When common flash drive capacities are 8mb (I remember this), getting a 1GB memory stick costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. As soon as it becomes trivial and easy to manufacture the 1GB sticks, the people making them cease to be able to sell them at their previous price-- the 8mb price tanks, the 1GB price drops sharply, and there is a new "high end" mark at a premium price.

              Likewise, antimatter and iridium and graphene are extremely

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Youll note that the price is for "pristine" graphene, and parents point was that if $5 investment could really turn into $15bil, everyone would be doing it. That is, in fact, capitalism at its best.

            Well, if that was the case, then before any one person could make $15bil .... loads of other people would glut the market and essentially make graphene worthless.

            Despite what Wall Street likes to tell us ... capitalism doesn't really allow for an infinite amount of people to make an infinite amount of money. In

            • by ArsonSmith (13997)

              someone's been drinking a little to much of the anti-capitalism Koolaid.

            • by Yamioni (2424602)

              Capitalism is still bounded by reality, even though a lot of people wish it wasn't so.

              This lawyer who says he represents the MIAA and RIAA just handed me a slip of paper he said they would like posted for them. It reads:

              Shutupshutupshutup! Nyahhhh! Nyahhhh! We're not listening!!

        • $15 billion per box? Order a few truckloads and lets get started. The US national debt will be gone soon.

        • Well that's $15B gross profit. You have to deduct the patent fee you'd have to pay to the inventor, ... uhm ... discoverer, uhm ... well, the guy who owns the patent on graphene. Because naturally occurring things are getting patents these days. It's all the rage. I plan to patent every single gene in my body. Profit!

          I'm betting the patent fee will be somewhere around $14.99999597B.

    • by simoncpu was here (1601629) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:47AM (#37067114)

      ... to perform the feat using a single box of Trefoil cookies — which could potentially yield $15 billion worth of graphene

      It could potentially reduce the price of $15 billion worth of graphene to a single box of Terfoil cookies. Here, fixed that for you.

    • by g253 (855070)
      TFA doesn't imply that it's simple to make ; merely that anything containing carbon can be used as raw material. The reason graphene is so valuable is precisely because it is so difficult to make on an industrial scale.
      • So similar to synthetic diamonds ( I don't mean Moissanite, Silicon Carbide, or Cubic Zirconia) which are used on an industrial scale. I remember seeing that they can be made of just about anything and the example they used was peanut butter. Now granted these mostly end up as being black diamonds but for industrial purposes who cares.
      • I'm not sure that is exactly correct. It may be time consuming and expensive, but that doesn't exactly make it difficult. I used to work in a semiconductor fab and some of the process we used processed at 1200C (melting point of Si is 1420C or close to that) and we more often than not used argon gas in processing due to it's properties as an inert gas. Being that hydrogen is a pretty abundant substance it seems the raw materials are fairly easy to come by. I guess the real challenge would be to find a m
      • by Yamioni (2424602)

        [...]merely that anything containing carbon can be used as raw material.

        Graphene is people!

    • by alta (1263) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:48AM (#37067118) Homepage Journal

      Because at the rate the dollar is going, in 5 years $15 billion is only going to buy you a box of girl scout cookies. And I'll take thinmint.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        At that point there won't be any Girl Scout cookies left to buy, since the Girl Scouts will have switched to selling graphene.

        They will however trademark the name "Very, Very Thin Mint".

      • by Nursie (632944) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:30AM (#37067502)

        I used to think you Americans and your obsession with girlscout cookies were weird in a sort of cutesy way.

        Then a few years ago my dad brought some thin mints back from a business trip to the US, a colleague had evidently been selling them in the office.

        Now I understand.

        • by kryliss (72493)

          They're addictive because they put crack in the girl scout cookies.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Actually, I hear they're considering adding thin mints to crack to improve its addictivity...

          • by danwiz (538108)
            It's a FACT ... A lot of underage crack goes into Girl Scout cookies.
          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            I just can't understand coworkers who come by and say "oh, girl scout cookies! Can I have one?" Puleaze! No you can not have one of my cookies you leech! They're mine! All twenty boxes are MINE!

        • by Anonymous Coward
          It's because they're made from real girl scouts.
        • There's also the limited release factor working for it. If you could just buy them at the store year round, people might get used to them. We tolerate it though because we assume the girl scouts are a good cause, and there is enough junk food out there year round.

          Me personally, I'd rather have egg nog available anytime I want it.
          • by Speare (84249)

            If you could just buy them at the store year round, people might get used to them.

            There's a great discussion in "artificial scarcity [wikipedia.org]" and related topics like DRM in there somewhere.

    • Re:Supply and demand (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tmosley (996283) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:57AM (#37067188)
      The most exalted rulers of France used to dine on aluminum tableware, as aluminum was more valuable than gold. Then we discovered how to electrolytically extract it from sand. Now we package sugar water in it. The first time they made aluminum that way, they got super rich as they sold just under the amount it was going for, and the price just kept going down from there.
      • Re:Supply and demand (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:26AM (#37067446) Homepage

        Another interesting fact along the same lines is the cap on the Washington Monument [wikipedia.org] is also made out of aluminum for the same reason. To quote the Wikipedia article on the Washington Monument:

        it was finally completed, with the 100 ounce (2.85 kg) aluminum tip/lightning-rod being put in place on December 6, 1884. The tip was the largest single piece of aluminum cast at the time, when aluminum commanded a price comparable to silver. Two years later, the Hall–Héroult process made aluminum easier to produce and the price of aluminum plummeted, making the once-valuable tip nearly worthless

      • by JSBiff (87824)

        "The first time they made aluminum that way, they got super rich as they sold just under the amount it was going for. . ."

        I was thinking about this once, in the context of thinking about the Polywell Reactor. For those unfamiliar with it, it is a proposed type of fusion reactor, whose proponents think it might possibly be able to produce very cheap electric power. Nobody really knows if that'll pan out or not, but I got to thinking about this:

        *IF* it did work out (not saying it will), and you could produce

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Market success.
          At first, the people who came outwith it would make a lot of money, so win. Within a few years, competition will drive the price down, so consumer win.

          If the company that comes out with ti owns the patent on the tech. Then they will start selling it when thy stop making money hand over fist. If they don't sell it, they will be under more and more pressure until they do.

          Personally, I would lease the tech for 10 million up front and 1 cent per a KwH..

        • by tmosley (996283)
          Congratulations, you just derived free market economic theory using predictions of integrated human action across large scale populations.

          Now, using your newfound theory that you have heroically derived from first principles, contemplate the effects of various forms of government interaction with the markets. You will see many interesting things, and might just notice that we have a one party system in the USA.
          • by JSBiff (87824)

            Ok, here's one way in which government interaction with the markets may affect things:

            The Polywell research was highly risky, with no guarantee of payoff, so private investors weren't interested in putting millions of dollars into research. However, the Navy saw that there was enough scientific basis that they apparently thought it was worth spending, at first, a relatively small amount of money for some basic research with small models. As each stage of research produced interesting results, they kept appr

        • by MobyDisk (75490)

          Then, the owner of the plant would patent the process and refuse to license the technology to anyone, thereby creating a monopoly and keeping the price high. When the patent runs out, the new CEO would lobby to make it illegal for anyone else to produce power using this technology. Or make it a legal requirement that some special valve must be used in the process, and patent that valve. etc, etc.

          Sorry, I might be jaded.

          • by JSBiff (87824)

            Actually, because of patents, there's an incentive/pressure to license, at least while the patent lasts.

            Look at it like this: You're a company that has spent time and money developing this new technology. It's got great market potential, but you as a company are too small to really push it out to market fast. You could sit on the patent monopoly, and build the company for 20 years - you'll experience, likely, phenomenal growth, but even at the end of that 20 years, you'll be *relatively* small company compa

        • by CommieLib (468883)
          I am an economist AND a Polywell tech follower - you are correct in all of this, and Bussard himself made a lot of these points before he passed on.

          I will also say - and I absolutely hope and pray that the Polywell reactor works out and creates all of the good you've described here - it is quite easily predictable that this will lead to a terrible, terrible war in the Middle East, as those currently rich societies collapse because they've kept all of their societal wealth eggs in single baskets. Not all
    • Simple to make does not imply low cost energy inputs, low cost machinery, or a high yield process. Also there may be a greater demand for the product than the available supply which will naturally drive up prices, see the current gold price.
      • by Miseph (979059)

        Graphene is made of carbon. We are nowhere near the point where carbon is difficult to acquire, expensive, or even in limited supply.

        In short, an economic comparison of graphene with gold is much like an economic comparison of eating at a restaurant with burning down your house. It's not that you can't make such a comparison... it's that such a comparison is almost entirely worthless.

    • by Punto (100573)

      that's the "street value", you know how it is

  • by alta (1263) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:44AM (#37067082) Homepage Journal

    The previous poster is right about supply and demand...

    If this is really so easy that it produced $15 billion worth, then the price of graphene is about to plummet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There is a cost for purity.

      I can buy sugar at grocery store prices. I can go to the pharmacy and spend a bit more for the same glucose molecules. I can go to Fischer and pay a dear price for the same glucose molecules. The difference is not only the price, but what I get with my glucose.

      At the store I get glucose and a whole lot more. At concentrations suitable for food production, the "whole lot more" isn't very important. At the pharmacy, I'm starting to get into the ~99% glucose range. That's much

      • by mrbester (200927)
        You do realise sucrose is a pentose, whereas glucose is a hexose right?
      • by arielCo (995647)

        In every case, the researchers were able to make high-quality graphene via carbon deposition on copper foil. In this process, the graphene forms on the opposite side of the foil as solid carbon sources decompose; the other residues are left on the original side. Typically, this happens in about 15 minutes in a furnace flowing with argon and hydrogen gas and turned up to 1,050 degrees Celsius.

        To demonstrate, the researchers subsequently tested a range of materials, as reported in the new paper, including chocolate, grass, polystyrene plastic, insects (a cockroach leg) and even dog feces (compliments of lab manager Dustin James' miniature dachshund, Sid Vicious).

  • They are made from coal, then?
  • I've heard of the copper deposition method for creating graphene before - this isn't new. Is this just a pointless gimmicky way to get headlines? (In case we didn't realise that a structure made of carbon could be derived from carbon-based materials)

    • by wsxyz (543068) on Friday August 12, 2011 @08:56AM (#37067184)
      No, it's an important way to get girls involved in research, so that they can learn at an early age that girls can do many different things, such as bake cookies for scientists.
      • by Xyrus (755017)

        Are these girl scout cookies made from real girl scouts?

      • by Chemisor (97276) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:03AM (#37067836)

        I don't know how things are where you live, but here Girl Scouts don't bake cookies. They just buy mass produced packages in bulk and resell with markup. This adequately prepares them for functioning in our society that no longer produces anything, and, evidently, doesn't even want to.

        • by zerro (1820876)
          ahh, good ole slashdot... It's been a while since I have seen a quality tree of posts.. Post, parent, and grandparent all made me chuckle...
        • by Gotung (571984)
          Our industrial output is higher then it's even been. But just like farming it takes a hell of a lot less people to do it these days. And very sophisticated computer controlled production is getting to the point where even smallish production runs in the states can be price competitive with Chinese human labor.

          It is actually a good thing that we sort of "lucked out" by offshoring a lot of our manufacturing jobs and shifted to a service economy earlier then everybody else. In the long run, as automated man
          • But service sector jobs will start to gradually disappear as well though, so in the end it doesn't matter.

          • by sjames (1099)

            But that only applies if we take the next step of actually providing a decent lifestyle for displaced workers. For example, if we reduced the work week by 4 hours, we could put a huge dent in unemployment.

            Instead, we seem determined to make sure there are only two states of employment available: work too much and unemployed.

        • Well being the father of a girl scout, I can tell you it teaches girls several useful skills. Math, writing, advertising, money handling, socialization, sales skills, working in a team, etc. So, while it doesn't teach them how to produce anything, it teaches valuable skills, and selling cookies isn't the only thing they do. They do plenty of producing things too. I think it's great they got involved in doing some science with normal everyday household chemicals. Reminds me of playing with chemistry sets and

    • by tmosley (996283) on Friday August 12, 2011 @09:00AM (#37067208)
      NOT pointless. It shows that the impurities in the starting material are irrelevant to the process, meaning that this process is going to make graphene cheaper than paper before long.

      This is equivalent to someone inventing a process for producing super-high quality silicon from sandy mud without purification steps. Currently, only the highest grade of silica can be used for manufacturing of that type.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Indeed. Graphene has been around for a while and it's properties are very exciting for electronics. However manufacturing cost has been a huge issue.

        Now, being able to produce graphene itself cheaply is not the same as being able to be able to cheaply manufacture goods which use graphene as a functional component... but it is clearly a prerequisite, and a major hurdle to overcome if not the major hurdle.

        There have been lots of new technologies with the promise of being able to supplant silicon transistor

      • Quite true. With the procedure being this easy, it's almost something I can do in my garage. I can get argon and hydrogen from the welding supplier. I already have a kiln that hits 2000F degrees. Making graphene could become a cottage industry :-)
        • by tmosley (996283)
          Damn, dude. I wish I had a kiln. I want to make a graphene t-shirt. Then maybe find out if it's bulletproof (using a dummy, of course).

          But yes, graphene is going to change everything. Imagine solar panels that are printed like newspaper, and at the same price. And that's just to start!
          • I'm hoping it happens soon. Kilns aren't crazy expensive. You can score used kilns for $500 or so. I haven't been able to find anything about how they pump hydrogen into the kiln without blowing up, so I haven't tried it yet. BUt I"m still looking :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they can get that much from one box of the girl scout cookies; imagine how much they could get from one girl scout!

  • Another thing for the girl scouts to pitch you on.

    "OK, that will be 3 boxes of thin mints, one Do-si-do, and two Trefoils WITH graphene, for $ 30,000,006.00. Do you want to pay now or when the cookies are ready?"

  • Is the sugar content of girl scout cookies higher than table sugar or is this a blatant case of a chemist going, "naner naner. I have so many girl scout cookies i can waist them in experiments"? It is obviously the later. To that I say, these are troubled times and this type of gloating is unacceptable!

  • Is this from one box of cookies, or all of them?
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Sweet, now my lead investments will pay off.

      • Not if the price of gold, which has very little actual value, plummets due to high availability. Oh you were trying to make a joke.....
    • by tragedy (27079)

      We've been able to turn lead into gold (albeit, mostly radioactive isotopes of gold) for a long time now. The alchemists were right that it could be done, even if their methods and theories were all over the map. Of course, the process for doing it does not produce gold in a quantity sufficient to offset the cost of transmuting it in the first place, even at todays prices. That doesn't mean that the quest was pointless. The knowledge gained was far more valuable.

  • It just seems morally wrong to waste perfectly good girl scout cookies on something like this! The poor little cookies just want to be eaten!

    At least they didn't use samoas.
  • To demonstrate, the researchers subsequently tested a range of materials, as reported in the new paper, including chocolate, grass, polystyrene plastic, insects (a cockroach leg) and even dog feces (compliments of lab manager Dustin James' miniature dachshund, Sid Vicious).

    In every case, the researchers were able to make high-quality graphene via carbon deposition on copper foil. In this process, the graphene forms on the opposite side of the foil as solid carbon sources decompose; the other residues are left on the original side. Typically, this happens in about 15 minutes in a furnace flowing with argon and hydrogen gas and turned up to 1,050 degrees Celsius.

  • is that someone has a miniature dachshund with the name 'Sid Vicious".

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