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The Graphene Revolution - Brian Clegg ****

Graphene's one of those words that gets bandied around a lot without getting more than some vague feeling of what it's all about. In the end, it's just a material, and everyone knows that books about materials don't make for very exciting reading. But the advantage Brian Clegg has here is that graphene is not just a wonder material (which it certainly is) but it also has a brilliant story attached to it.

The two Russian discoverers of graphene (sort of - more on that in a moment), working at Manchester University are, to say the least, characters. This is particularly the case with Andre Geim, who first came to fame (or infamy) when he successfully levitated live frogs using a very powerful magnet. Geim and his co-discoverer Konstantin Novoselov had the idea that you should be able to spend some time on what they called 'Friday Night Projects' (spare time activities to look at something completely different) and they succeeded remarkably with graphene.

Clegg gives us the story of the Russian duo's discovery: they used discarded bits of sticky tape that had been used to clean blocks of carbon. Graphene had already been named, as a way to describe the atom-thin layers that make up a sheet of graphite, but it was thought it wouldn't be possible to produce stable sheets of graphene, which ought to collapse under its internal forces. Geim and Novoselov set out to prove different.

Their story is hard to read without smiling, but the book isn't all about the dynamic duo. (Is it unfair to think of Novoselov as the Robin of graphene to Geim's Batman?) There's a lot on the structure of graphene, including why it's incredibly strong and pretty much the best conductor without resorting to superconductors, and also how it could be practically used. Sometimes it can seem there's a bit too much of this, as if Clegg can't resist telling us one more possibility, but we soon move onto something else.

Sometimes even those potential ways of using graphene seem to have a touch of Geim magic about them. Take, for instance, the graphene coating on a bottle that allows water to pass through but not alcohol - so anything alcoholic left in the bottle gets stronger and stronger of its own accord. This is a wonderful material, with a great story, and Clegg tells it well.

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Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

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