Occasionally in the progression of the sciences a single innovation affects many categories of science and society. Artificial Intelligence is one such innovation. At the moment many scientific and technological fields are beginning to feel the impact of it, and given enough time I doubt there will be any aspect of civilization that is not affected by it in some way. Unfortunately for society the subject of AI has been so overused in general writing and media that the market for papers about AI is in a severe glut. There is however a specific innovation that has been criminally neglected the spotlight it deserves in the collective mind of humanity. An innovation, and three subsets of that innovation, that could create an exponential boom in technological progress not seen since the days of mass produced transistor microchips. That innovation is the field of material science, and those three specific technologies are Graphene, Borophene, and Niobium.
To a reader who has read any of my writings the mention of Graphene is hardly unexpected. I have covered it in several of my previous writings that covered other issues but contained Graphene in the list of possible solutions. Graphene itself however has so much potential I would call it nothing short of a scientific marvel. Two of the primary individuals who worked on its creation were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics which should be enough evidence enough of that statement. Graphene is put simply a 2D structure of Carbon atoms that form a hexagonal lattice much like a honeycomb. It is named after Graphite, with the added ene at the end to evidence it contains multiple double bonds.
So what makes it so remarkable? Almost every facet it has. It is the ability to conduct infinite heat, making it the best choice conceivable for heat sink devices and heat transferring. In fact it is so good at conducting heat it breaks Fourier’s Law of heat conductivity. This is a feat so impressive scientists even at the time of writing this article have yet to explain it. The properties only get better from there. Graphene in even impure forms is a great conductor, and when shaped properly at the atomic level it can be either an insulator or a superconductor. It possesses an extremely high electron mobility (exceeding 15 000 cm/Vs). It is two hundred times stronger than steel, and six times lighter. The most remarkable property of all is the fact that Graphene has an electrical current density a million times that of copper, and intrinsic mobility 100 times that of Silicon.
With such a vast array of properties the use cases for Graphene are so many and so vast I can barely begin to cover them here. It could be used to create superconductive wires which would save incalculable amounts of energy wasted to heat loss. It could be used in quantum computers, semiconductors, super capacitors, and even as a direct replacement for Silicon itself. Hyper efficient electronics could themselves yield benefits to computational power, environmental aspirations, and the progression of AI unlike anything previously seen. It would feel like the energy output of the planet multiplied many times over when in fact it was simply unlocking the full potential of the energy already being consumed. All of this is just scratching the surface, so if you needed any more use cases see here.
However, the greatest benefit Graphene will pose to civilization this decade will be batteries. Batteries in the present have limited use cases because they are heavy, not energy dense, take hours to recharge under optimal conditions, use materials that are difficult and costly to get, and still pose a fire/explosion risk (even if said risk has been mitigated over the last decade). Graphene batteries, even in their most primitive implementation improve or outright fix every single one of these issues. Unlike traditional Lithium Cobalt batteries, Graphene can be charged much quicker due to the aforementioned fact it breaks the current laws of science when it comes to heat distribution. By being able to instantly feed heat to a heat sink a battery designed with it can be charged at much, much higher voltages than any current battery could handle. If you compliment a Lithium battery with Graphene you get a battery that even in conservative tests is over two times as energy dense as Lithium Cobalt, with some tests yielding five fold results or even better.
Graphene for as wondrous as it is however is not without competition. Enter Borophene. Comprised of the same atomic hexagonal lattice and 2D structuring as Graphene, Borophene differs in one way: it uses the atom Boron instead of Carbon. Borophene has all the same properties that Graphene does, but only for Borophene the place of Carbon is taken by Boron. Boron is a notoriously difficult element to work with, and historically it is the elements that are difficult to work with that yield the greatest rewards when the scientists crack the code and figure out how to work with them. Boron is an element that occurs in nature in trace amounts, but most importantly it is believed (with some degree of certainty) to exist in space dust. This poses the intriguing possibility that at some point in the future mankind through the aforementioned material advancements will be able to mine Boron and other elements from the surface of other worlds, to the benefit of all. Graphene, like Silicon, is composed of an extremely common element, and though the process of its creation is tricky the end result is a material that can be manufactured without the need to import anything from a source beyond the planet.
Finally we come to our final future element: Niobium. Niobium is an atom with a similar structure to the previous two, but with an added twist. Due to the nature of the way it is created it can also be formed in a 1D structure. This 1D structure is not a wire, but rather an atomic chain that behaves with interesting properties at room temperature. As with the previous materials it has a myriad of use cases in medicine and electronics, but the most important is the fact that it has the potential to be used in supercapacitors. Supercapacitors of course have the potential to be the successors to batteries, as they are much more energy dense. However, the problem with them is they are not as efficient as batteries, and they have a much, much shorter lifespan. All of these elements have potential for this application, but Niobium specifically is uniquely adapted for this. Niobium is a superconductor, which means it can conduct electricity at minuscule voltages. This means that when used in supercapacitors much higher voltages can be used to charge them, which would (in theory) increase the lifespan and efficiency dramatically. If the lifespan and efficiency of supercapacitors can be improved to a sufficient degree batteries may quickly become obsolete.
In conclusion, the future is in material science, and the future of material science are these three elements. They have the potential to transform electronics, infrastructure, transportation, and much more. It is my hope that in the remaining days of this decade these elements receive the attention they deserve, and that the benefits they yield are shared by everyone.