Most people have had that terrible feeling in their stomach when they accidentally drop a very expensive smartphone, sending it plummeting several feet onto a concrete or other hard surface.
The general thought at this point is to hope that nothing more than the screen is cracked and the phone still works, but if researchers at Samsung Electronics are successful there could be a time in the not-too-distant future when the phone merely has to be picked up, dusted off and put back to use.
This will be done by using a newly discovered material called graphene as a major component in electronic devices. Samsung's researchers are working on a way to incorporate graphene into consumer electronic devices that, if successful, could result in creating smartphones and tablets that are all but indestructible.
Graphene is a relatively new substance that was discovered in 2004. It has several remarkable traits, including being 20 times stronger than a diamond, 200 times stronger and six times lighter than steel, and is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Graphene is formed by using a single layer of carbon atoms that is laid out in a lattice-type structure and is so thin, 1 million times thinner than paper, that it is actually considered a two-dimensional object.
It is also extremely conductive, able to pass through electricity like no other material now available. Unfortunately, unlike silicon, there is no way to turn stop the electricity from moving through it so it cannot be used at this point to make a microprocessor. Researchers are working on fixing this problem, but there is no estimate on when this task would be accomplished.
The substance is also so thin that makes it see-through. When all of these benefits are put together, it is not hard to imagine being able to produce mobile devices that are not only extremely tough, but much faster and lighter than what is currently on the market.
The unfortunate aspect to this announcement is that the product is years away from being produced.
But the possibility that someday this will happen is quite high, although there are many high hurdles that still need to be jumped.
"Graphene has a lot of potential, especially in terms of industrial applications for optical and electronic devices," said Ping Sheng, a professor of nanoscience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, adding that one of the biggest issues with the material is being able to produce mass quantities of high quality graphene for industrial purposes.
However, this problem may be on the brink of being solved. A new method of synthesizing graphene has been developed, possibly making it simpler to manufacture the material, it was announced last week at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.
"This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history," said the laboratory leaders at SAIT's Lab. "We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialization of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology."