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Scientists are using soybeans to make the strongest material on earth

Scientists at CSIRO have discovered a way to make graphene – the strongest material on Earth – out of soybean oil.

Graphene, for those not in the know, is a kind of super material. It’s carbon-based, only one atom thick, flexible, more conductive than copper, and is 97.3 per cent transparent – clearer than most eye glasses.

Graphene has a very similar chemical makeup to graphite – flat layers of carbon atoms each loosely bonded to three other carbon atoms, making it extremely strong. Graphene is what we would get if we could peel off just one of those tightly bonded, one-atom-thick layers.

You may have heard of graphene in the context of superheroes. In Marvel Comics’ Superior Ironman #2 Ironman swapped out his namesake, iron, for a graphene faceplate – totally transparent and ten times more bulletproof than steel – which allowed him to be shot in the face and survive.

Ironman fighting in comic book

Back in the real world, graphene can be used in a variety of ways. It can improve battery performance, filter salt water to make it drinkable, create unbreakable and flexible mobile phones, be used as bionic implants and clean up radioactive waste.

No wonder Tony Stark was so into it.

The list of potential uses goes on and on, but most of these applications remain out of reach, as the traditional method of creating graphene is expensive, time consuming and dangerous, involving explosive gasses, high heat and a vacuum process.

Recently however, the clever clogs scientists at CSIRO, along with researchers at the University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, and The Queensland University of Technology, have come up with a cheaper and faster way to produce graphene.

GraphAir technology uses soybean oil and ambient air to produce graphene in a single step, at a teeny fraction of what it used to cost.

Concurrently, the researchers have been testing other fat-containing products, including butter and waste oils, to see how viable they are as a graphene base. Imagine being able to use the leftover products of your cooking to create a superhero material that will stop bullets!

The next step in the process is to make the production process commercially available and see what other amazing things we can do with graphene.

About the author

Hannah loves to travel but can’t read a map, so she has plenty of good stories to tell.

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