Physicists Find Mass Created 'Inside' Graphene

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Graphene: what can’t it do? Those atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms packed honeycomb-shaped crystal lattices can act as zero-gap semiconductors, biodevices, transistors, and now can perhaps create mass, simply by rolling up atom-thick sheets of this material.

Graphene is one of those crazy materials with a host of fun properties: it’s a great conductor, very opaque, exceptionally strong, makes blisteringly fast transistors, as well as a good antibacterial coating. New research out of the Saudi Center for Theoretical Physics also points to graphene being able to create mass. How? By relativistic physics.

Fair warning: We're about to get really technical here.

Graphene’s electrical properties can be “tuned” by rolling up sheets of this material such that electrons move through the rolled structure at the speed of light, 3 x 108 meters per second. When these super thin sheets are rolled just so, the behavior of electrons travelling through graphene is not just governed by the wave equations of quantum mechanics, but in theory also by the laws of relativistic physics that don’t take into account the masses of these tiny charged particles. This allows any laboratory with just carbon and electricity to experiment with actually creating mass, not just those physicists with high energy particle accelerators in their backyards.

How exactly could graphene create mass? One particle physics model purports that mass arises from the universe having extra dimensions, and if you roll the super-thing sheets of graphene up, you effectively have a one-dimensional tube for electrons to travel through, which means the structure of elementary particles passing through these graphene tubes could be altered.

While the sort of mass that’ll be generated is still up for debate--it’s likely that the structure of leptons (electrons, muons, neutrinos, and more) passing through these tubes change and thus mass will be created, rather than something being generated out of nothing—the paper shows that you can verify these results in a physics lab.

Will graphene lead to a revolution of electronic devices, powered by harnessing the powers of relativistic physics? Or will applications of tiny tubes of graphene be as hard to grasp as the theoretical physics behind this idea? Let us know in the comments!

[ via Technology Review / Photo: Argonne National Laboratory on Flickr; used under Creative Commons]

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