Innovations do not just happen through the objects we use to interact with the world around us, but also the materials we resort to shape our ideas. Researchers have already discovered new elements with revolutionary properties, high strength, light weight and ability to conduct electrical current more efficiently than the materials used today. These materials may be the future of our technology. “Every time we find new materials, we boost technology,” says Arie Halpern. “Magic materials such as graphene may be some of the most interesting findings of this century.”
Graphene is probably the greatest new material discovered by science, now on the spotlight. It seems as if it has just come out of a science fiction movie. In 2004, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, professors at the University of Manchester, used sticky tape to separate the tiniest pieces of graphite until they were only one atom thick. That is how graphene, a material composed of carbon atoms and having some “special powers” came up, It is one of the strongest, lightest and thinnest materials known, in addition to being transparent, elastic and possessing electrical and optical properties. Several companies and laboratories have been studying this substance, trusting it will be the main raw material of technology in the future, to be used in smartphones, computers and other gadgets.
Another starlet that has excited the scientists is the “spider silk”. Although similar to the silk produced by silkworms, spider silk is stronger and up to five times more resistant than steel, besides being flexible and not trigger allergic reactions in humans. Despite such qualities, the material proved prohibitive for large-scale use because it can not be recreated in a laboratory. This material can only be obtained from spiders producing silk yarn. In spite of this limitation, Arie Halpern thinks the material can represent an inspiration for scientists to create new components.
The newest member on the list of magic materials is the atomic metallic hydrogen. Two physicists from Harvard University announced earlier this year the creation of this element in a laboratory for the first time, but the feat was seen with skepticism by the scientific community. The existence of hydrogen in a metallic state was theorized for the first time almost a hundred years ago, but no one had ever been able to physically produce it. To turn the hydrogen gas into atomic metallic hydrogen, the scientists pressed a small amount of the element at a temperature of -270 ° C and a pressure 5 million times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level. The hydrogen gas thus passed through the liquid and solid state until the bonds between the atoms broke, forming a crystalline structure, making it electrically conductive, a typical characteristic of metals. The scientists believe that this element has meta-stable properties, which means that if the pressure is removed it will stay metallic acting as a superconductor. “If the stability of metallic hydrogen is proven, we will be able to save a lot of energy that is normally dissipated during its conduction,” explains Arie Halpern.