In the Powers of Ten film, the carbon atom itself is first seen at 10-10 at the outer electron shell and at 10-14 the nucleus is seen. Today we know that inside the atom the quark and the electron are the smallest known particles at 10-18. That’s roughly like if the quark and the electron were the size of the picnic at 100 then the nucleus of the atom would be about the size of Chicago by the lake shore at 10+4 and then the whole atom itself at the outer electron shell would be about the size of earth at 10+8.
Now a new form of carbon has been discovered. This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for their discovery of graphene. “As a material it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest. As a conductor of electricity it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it. Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again.”
Not only is it surprising that there is something new to say about carbon, the method that Geim and Novoselov to discover it was equally unexpected. “Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene from a piece of graphite such as is found in ordinary pencils. Using regular adhesive tape they managed to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. This at a time when many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable.”
Though no commercial uses are available (yet), there could be at least 10+3 uses (probably 10+4 or 10+5 ) for graphene.