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Through a lens darkly

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Friday 25 January 2013: Graphene - one atom thick carbon!

This rather abstract-looking image was taking using a microscope earlier today. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw helped acquire it as part of his visit to our laboratories to be enthused about science.

The sample is graphene. You might have heard about it in the news. It's very popular stuff, having awesome physical properties that are touted as making it the material of the future.

Simply put, this is made from pure carbon and is what you find in pencil leads made of graphite. Carbon atoms form single sheets of graphene one atom thick in graphite, that stack on top of one another and can slide about, allowing you to draw and deposit them on paper.

In this sample, the pale blue contrast represents one layer thick, the darker blue is two layers thick, the green is three layers thick and the red is four layers thick. The image was obtained by detecting fluorescence from the sample under illumination from a laser. It's only 85 microns wide (there are 25.4 microns in one thousandth of an inch - pretty small!)

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