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Graphene photocells could mean hyper-speed internet

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The latest study of miracle material graphene shows it could be used to provide a much higher speed internet.

Yet another application for the boffin collective's research darling could be high-speed optical communications, which hadn't seemed like a practical application up to now because graphene absorbs so little light, just around 3 per cent.

But now scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge, including pioneers in the field of graphene research, have come up with a way to improve the substance's capture and conversion of light by sticking two closely-spaced metallic wires on top of it, resulting in an elementary solar cell.

"Such graphene devices can be incredibly fast, tens and potentially hundreds of times faster than communication rates in the fastest internet cables. This is due to the unique nature of electrons in graphene, their high mobility and velocity," the research said.

Since Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov discovered graphene at the University of Manchester in 2004, its possibilities as a replacement for silicon, and just about everything else you need to build technology, have spawned thousands of scientific research papers and even a couple of working prototypes. Samsung, in partnership with Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea, has already demonstrated a 25-inch flexible touchscreen using graphene and IBM have shown off a high-speed switching circuit based on graphene.

The material is touted as the thing to power the 21st century because its the strongest stuff ever measured, the thinnest and mightily conductive, as well as being impermeable and pretty darn flexible.

Speaking about this study, Novoselov said: "The technology of graphene production matures day-by-day, which has an immediate impact both on the type of exciting physics which we find in the material and on the feasibility and the range of possible applications."

"Many leading electronics companies consider graphene for the next generation of devices. This work certainly boosts graphene's chances even further," he added.

Geim and Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year for their work with graphene. ®

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