NIU scientists discover cheaper, greener way to create high-tech - – Rockford’s News Leader

NIU scientists discover cheaper, greener way to create high-tech material

Dr. Narayan Hosmane (left) and Dr. Amartya Chakrabarti. Dr. Narayan Hosmane (left) and Dr. Amartya Chakrabarti.
Scientists burn dry ice and magnesium. Scientists burn dry ice and magnesium.
After dry ice and magnesium burn graphene is created. After dry ice and magnesium burn graphene is created.
Graphene in beaker. Graphene in beaker.

As two Northern Illinois University scientists work for a better way to treat cancer, they uncover something that could revolutionize the technology industry. Their green discovery might soon make silicon computer chips a thing of the past.

The two NIU researchers wanted to create carbon nanotubes, tiny and extremely expensive technology, which could carry cancer drugs directly to tumors. But their experiment didn't work and that's what they're excited about.

"Instead of carbon nanotube, we failed; we thought we didn't find the carbon nanotube.  Instead the high resolution transmission electron microscope showed this is graphene," says Dr. Narayan Hosmane.

Experts have talked about using graphene to replace silicon for the last decade. Silicon is extremely difficult and explosive to create.  

But graphene is even more expensive because it's usually grown in labs at high temperatures using a lot of chemicals.  What Dr. Hosmane and his colleague stumbled on was a cheaper, more environmental way to create it.

"We are not using any toxic chemicals it's only magnesium, you're burning magnesium and carbon dioxide.  It is not only a greener way it's also can be helpful to deplete carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," says Dr. Amartya Chakrabarti.

The method has been around for decades. Teachers usually burn dry ice and magnesium in introductory chemistry classes to get students excited about science.  

"Even now I can't believe its being made in such a simple method and how people missed this because this can be done.  Even a high school student or a teenager in the garage or a backyard could do it," says Dr. Hosmane.

Graphene is made up of single layer carbon atoms and conducts electricity very well.

IBM already created a graphene circuit that could eventually be used in things like TVs and cell phones. 

"Whoever seen Star Trek and even the Second Generation what they use all those gadgets at the time they look like toys.  But now those toys are not going to be toys anymore.  This is going to be real because graphene can change.  It's a lot less weight, tiny at the same time, it's so powerful," says Dr. Hosmane.

The two scientist are still working on a way to transport cancer drugs into tumors, but with graphene instead of nanotubes.

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