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Six amazing uses for the wonder material graphene

By Cat DiStasio

Graphene is a super-strong, ultra-lightweight material that’s led to scores of technological innovations in recent years. It consists of bonded carbon atoms formed into sheets that measure just one atom thick. The material’s strength to weight ratio makes it ideal for all sorts of applications ranging from desalination filters that produce clean drinking water to batteries that charge up in seconds, and even next-gen LED bulbs. Graphene is even being used to make solar cells produce electricity in the rain, leading us to believe the most amazing graphene-based gadgets have yet to come.

Making seawater drinkable

Around the world, there’s a major push for developing more efficient ways to turn saltwater into clean drinking water. Enter this atom-thick graphene filter, which Lockheed Martin found could reduce the amount of energy needed for the desalination process. The filtering material, dubbed Perforene, was originally patented for cleaning up oil spills. However, the company realized it could also serve other purposes. Because the filter is only one atom thick, saltwater flows through it without excess pressure – and since the holes in the filter are just 100 nanometers in diameter, they’re just large enough for water molecules to squeeze through, but too small to allow salt particles to pass. This results in a desalination filter that cuts energy usage by 20 percent, making it more environmentally friendly and better suited for use in regions where electricity is as scarce as clean water.

Super fast-charging batteries

Today’s rechargeable batteries tend to lose charge capacity over time – however, researcher Han Lin at Australia’s Swinburne University created a battery with a graphene supercapacitor that can be used time and time again without any loss in performance — and it charges up in mere seconds. Lin used a 3D printer to build sheets of graphene for his energy storage device, which could one day replace the lithium-based batteries in smartphones, tablets and even electric cars. Graphene gives this new battery a major edge, beating out traditional batteries in charging time, lifespan and also environmental impact.

Solar power in the rain

Scientists from Yunnan Normal University and the Ocean University of China used graphene to develop a novel solar panel that is able to generate electricity in the rain. A layer of graphene over the top of the solar cells generates energy as it reacts with naturally occurring salts in rainwater. The solar cells have an efficiency rate of around 6.5 percent, which isn’t much, but with improved efficiency, rain power could become a real thing in places where the weather isn’t exactly ripe for traditional solar cells.

Super efficient lightbulbs

The University of Manchester touts itself as the “Home of Graphene,” because it was the first place to create graphene sheets back in 2004. Fast-forward to 2015 and a research team at the university created a dimmable, filament-shaped LED coated in graphene that uses 10 percent less energy than existing LED bulbs. The newer, better, longer-lasting LED went on sale in the United Kingdom shortly after, selling at a lower price than many competing products. The graphene bulb also made history as the first commercially available product containing the now-famous carbon allotrope.

The world’s lightest material

Scientists are forever working to develop materials that are even more lightweight than ever, and in 2013, a team of Chinese researchers created a sponge-like material using graphene that earned the title of world’s lightest material. Fusing freeze-dried carbon with graphene oxide, the Zhejiang University team produced what they dubbed Graphene Aerogel, a spongy solid material that weighs just .16 milligrams per cubic centimeter. The carbon-based sponge is incredibly flexible and is also capable of absorbing oil by impressive quantities. The team reports that the sponge can soak up 900 times its own weight, which means it could be used in the future to clean up oil spills. Best of all, due to the sponge’s flexibility, both the oil and the sponge could be recycled, making it a sustainable solution to a practical problem.

Paper 10 times stronger than steel

Paper is notoriously fragile, especially in sheet form. It tears easily and even just a few drops of water can render it essentially useless for its intended purposes. Five years ago, a team of researchers at the University of Technology in Sydney developed a graphene-based paper than is 10 times stronger than steel. The durable nano paper, composed of processed and pressed graphite is flexible, 100% recyclable, conductive and durable and thin enough to be used in countless industries.

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My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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What we’re watching: ‘Raw’ and ‘Feast of Fiction’

Welcome back to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're kicking things off with some seasonally-appropriate horror fare, that you can catch right away on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then it's time for a Gundam throwback before Kris Naudus points out a couple of YouTube food channels perfect for binge eating or binge watching.

Them / Raw

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

To get into the Halloween spirit, I've been watching at least one horror movie a day since the end of September -- the lower the budget, the better. Problem is, so many of the American low-budget or indie horror offerings on Amazon and Netflix are crappy Paranormal Activity clones, cheap-thrill gore-fests or uninspired found-footage "documentaries." Whether it's by design or coincidence, I've found that French horror movies have held my attention the most lately. Specifically, 2016's Raw, as well as Them, from ten years prior. They're more psychological thrillers than straight-up horror, but that didn't stop me from being more on edge while watching them one afternoon than I was during A Haunting in Saginaw, Michigan, late at night. Both start with a car crash, but they couldn't finish any more differently.

Raw, recently added to Netflix, tells the tale of a vegetarian girl in her first week at a prestigious veterinary school. During a hazing ritual, she's forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. She immediately gets sick, throws up and wakes herself up that night scratching a full-body rash to near bleeding. This bout with food poisoning is just the beginning, though, and soon protagonist Justine finds out she has a taste for forbidden fruit. As the remaining 70-ish minutes unfolded, I lost track of how many times I clasped my hands over my mouth, agape in shock, to stifle my shouts of "OHMYGODWHATTHEFUCKISEVENHAPPENING?!"

But French director Julia Ducournau balances every body-horror scene either with something pedestrian twisted into being unsettling (like a horse on a treadmill) or with something that makes you ask how far Justine can go before someone confronts her about her new diet. And those questions keep coming right until the credits roll. I can't say I enjoyed watching Raw, but it was a hell of a ride.

The same goes for Them, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Its focus is narrow, centering on a young couple living in a cavernous farmhouse, terrorized over the course of a night by unseen horrors. The camera never quite gives away who (or what) the perpetrators are, and revealing the twist would be a sin. As with Raw, its atmosphere and overall creepiness won me over straightaway. The scariest part? Realizing that I've probably driven past a shot like the final scene countless times and not thought twice about it. If you're willing to read subtitles, both of these should make you shiver and scream more than The Conjuring 2 on HBO Go could ever hope to.

Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

David Lumb

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

I'd heard that a lot of anime had left Hulu, but I scanned their selection anyway looking for classic shows I'd missed, like the original Mobile Suit Gundam. They don't have that -- but they did have a series I didn't finish the first time it aired on Toonami, the 1996 classic Gundam side story The 08th MS Team. Unlike the franchise's other show released the year before, the massively successful Gundam Wing, 08th ditches the brand's typical pretty-boys-in-unbeatable-robots for a grounded and sobering story about the people who get caught up in wars -- desperate soldiers, civilians and guerrillas alike. It's dirty, honest, utterly humane and gorgeously animated.

It's also a little preachy and melodramatic, and it shows its age with odd sexist moments. While it's still the Thin Red Line of the Gundam universe, I remember it far more fondly from when my 14-year-old self grazed the series on its first American airing. There's something sad in seeing an old favorite for the flawed media it always was. Much like Waypoint's Rob Zacny, I've grown up and seen a lot since I first caught the show as a starry-eyed teen. I still think The 08th MS Team is a wonderful little 12-episode miniseries with a big heart, but I won't revere it so highly -- and will think a little harder about who I recommend it to.

Feast of Fiction / Binging with Babish

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Back in March, I came home from a trip only to discover that my oven didn't work. The cooking gas in my building had been shut off due to a leak. My building management seemed to be on it, so I made do with a combination of microwavables, toaster oven and Seamless. Unfortunately, weeks and months went by, calls to the city were made and permits were issued, but, even as I write this in October, gas still has not been restored to my building. My landlords eventually threw their collective hands in the air and began installing electric ranges in every apartment, so a few weeks ago I was finally able to cook for myself again.

I am so jazzed to be able to make food. Hot food! Scrambled eggs! Steak! Cookies! I started reading food blogs and cookbooks, and shopping to refill my pantry. I'm halfway through Kenji Alt-Lopez's The Food Lab, a huge 900-page hardcover that talks about the science of how food cooks. On the lighter side, I've also been reading food-themed comics like Delicious in Dungeon and Food Wars. And the latter title (which is also an anime) ended up sucking me into a YouTube hole of food videos that I've been obsessed with ever since.

You see, the very first chapter of Food Wars features the "Gotcha" Pork Roast, a bacon-wrapped potato loaf that hero Soma Yukihira makes to save his family restaurant. It looks pretty tasty, so I searched for recipes and pics online and stumbled onto Jimmy Wong and Ashley Adams' Feast of Fiction, a series that demonstrates how to make various foods seen in cartoons, video games and comics. If you ever wanted to taste Steven Universe's beloved Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches or Kirby's super-spicy curry, there's an episode for you. One thing I really enjoy is how they also incorporate crafts into it, showing how to make paper wrappers for your Reptar chocolate bars or genuine-looking Ecto Cooler Hi-C boxes.

I've been marathoning through the episodes, which the YouTube algorithms have definitely picked up on at this point, throwing food show after food show into my suggestions. One that caught my eye was Binging with Babish. Where Feast of Fiction mostly sticks to the realm of kids' cartoons, anime and video games, Binging with Babish is a little more mainstream, covering foods from popular media like Mad Men, Seinfeld and House of Cards. Still, there's a bit of overlap -- both Babish and Feast have done their own takes on the Ultimeatum from Regular Show and Krabby Patties from SpongeBob SquarePants. But the recipes are different, and I watch the shows for the personalities. Feast of Fiction is pretty silly (and there's a cute dog), while Binging with Babish is a little more subdued. Not that Babish can't be ridiculous as well -- the Moist Maker is one of the most ridiculously complicated sandwiches I have ever seen, basically asking you to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner.

Sadly, I still haven't done a lot of actual cooking since getting my stove back. I'm having too much fun watching other people do it instead, with the added bonus that I don't have to clean up the mess.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.