Graphene Reveals Fine Structure Constant

Graphene, at just one atom in thickness the world's thinnest material, reveals another amazing property. When light is shown through a large suspended membrane of graphine, most visible light passes right through it.

However, graphene is not clear; about 2.3 percent of visible light is absorbed. Dividing this number by pi gives the exact value of the fine structure constant, which is the fundamental physical constant characterizing the strength of the electromagnetic interaction. It is a dimensionless quantity - just about 1 / 137.

To put it another way, if the fine structure constant was changed just a few percent, and life would be impossible. Nuclear reactions in which carbon is generated from lighter elements in burning stars would be impossible. Without carbon, there would be no life.


(Graphene covers the small holes;
the light passing through is visible to the naked eye)

Apparently, the reason that dividing the percentage of visible light shining through divided by pi gives the fine structure constant is that the electrons in graphene behave as if they have lost their mass. This result has been verified by many researchers after the original creation of graphene by University of Manchester researchers. Read more about the discovery of graphene in an earlier article - Graphene - Nanofabric One Atom Thick.

Professor Andre Geim, of The School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, remarks

“We were absolutely flabbergasted when realized that such a fundamental effect could be measured in such a simple way. One can have a glimpse of the very foundations of our universe just looking through graphene.”

Read more about the origins of graphene; see Graphene gazing gives glimpse of foundations of universe and Refining the fine-structure constant.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/4/2008)

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