Graphene was first isolated and characterized in 2004 by two researchers at The University of Manchester. Since then, graphene — a single, thin layer of graphite and one of the strongest materials in the known universe — has been used in countless applications, thanks to its flexibility, transparency, and its highly conductive properties and its impermeability to most gases and liquids. It is hundreds of times stronger than steel and way more conductive than copper. It could theoretically hold an elephant, and it can soak up radioactive waste. Its discoverers even went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their work with this “wonder material.” Quite a resume for the thinnest material ever created.
Graphene has been used for research and innovation involving human enzymes, artificial wood, sustainable fuel, ultra-light wristwatches, cell phones, military body armor, artificial retinas for eyes, space exploration, safer oil and gas piping, fastcharging batteries, filters for clean drinking water, cancer research — the list goes on and on. Because it’s lightweight and incredibly conductive, graphene is an ideal material for many projects, and the ideas just keep coming. Yes, it’s expensive to produce and hard to manufacture in large quantities, but there are plenty of researchers out there who want to use it regardless (and who are searching for a cheap, easy way to produce it as well).
Graphene hasn’t found its niche with consumer products, though. Again, since it’s expensive and complicated to manufacture, graphene-based products for the everyday person are scarce. One such product on the market, though, is a graphene-coated jacket, intended to generate power through motion. The jacket — which costs a little under $700 and has already sold out — is coated in graphene and polyurethane membrane on one side, and a mix of nylon and elastane on the other. The garment weighs under a pound and is waterproof and windproof. It conducts and retains heat, and therefore helps regulate the wearer’s body temperature. It can be left out in the sun (or reversed while wearing) to collect heat, and then put on (or reversed again) to warm the wearer. Basically, it acts as a radiator. And it even repels bacteria, albeit in small doses.
The company calls it “part jacket, part science experiment,” and notes that the project is part of the growing trend of wearable electronics. They even developed the jacket alongside the same people responsible for Michael Phelps’ 2008 Olympic Speedo swimsuit. Phelps picked up eight gold medals in Beijing and also shattered numerous Olympic and world records — such swimsuits were actually banned from competition in 2010 because they were viewed as enabling an uneven playing field.
The jacket’s creators are hoping that those who purchase it will experiment with its capabilities, and develop “hacks” such as the ability to charge a cell phone in the pocket. The intention, says the company, is to put the jacket out there and then see what other innovators can do with it. Taking graphene out of the lab and crowd-sourcing it may very well lead to some revolutionary innovations.