Scientists at the University of Maryland at College Park have managed to clock a floating piece of graphene at an unbelievable 60 million rpm, far faster than any other macroscopic object yet measured. Even crazier: Given graphene's strength, one of the scientists says that may only be a thousandth of its possible top speed.
Graphene is a derivation of graphite, which in turn comes from carbon. Basically, graphite comes from stacked sheets of carbon, and graphene is made of one-atom-thick separated graphite sheets, which form a honeycomb crystal structure. Graphene has some pretty incredible properties: It conducts electricity better than any other known material at room temperature and exhibits a startling amount of strength, given its 2D structure. A bit of graphene the same thickness as plastic wrap would require 2.5 tons of force to puncture it.
To set the spinning speed record, scientist Bruce Kane took charged flakes of graphene, only a micrometer wide, and sprayed them into a vacuum chamber, where they were trapped in mid-air by electric fields. Explains New Scientist:
Kane then set them spinning using a light beam that is circularly polarised, meaning it passes its momentum to objects in its path. As a result, the flakes started spinning at 60 million rotations per minute, faster than any other macroscopic object.
It's not really clear that there are any particular uses for this discovery, but graphene has shown nothing but promise so far, so further research on its spin speed could well lead to scientists stumbling onto something great.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.