Call it the "Graphene Factor". . .
Discovered in 2004, this radical new material made from a single carbon atom has turned the world on its ear.
Since then, experts around the globe have heralded graphene as the hot new commodity that could change everything from satellites to semiconductors.
As it turns out, graphene is only a part of a much bigger story about a new generation of smart materials.
In fact, I've discovered five new materials besides graphene that will change the world, making early investors a fortune along the way.
But don't think for a minute that I've backed away from my belief in graphene since I wrote about this "Miracle Material" last December in this article.
Since then, my confidence in graphene's impact has only grown. Its uses seem almost endless.
With graphene we'll have flat-screen TVs as thin as Saran Wrap, nanotech devices that put the power of a mainframe computer in the palm of your hand and brain implants that combat Alzheimer's.
It's the perfect substance for what I call the Era of Radical Change. We have entered a period like none other in history. What was once science fiction is becoming science fact.
But graphene won't be the only new material pushing the limits of high tech. . .
See, scientists around the world are in their labs right now working on new materials that could affect everything from drugs to smart phones to space travel. And they're making huge strides.
As a result, science is set to hand us a whole new group of smart materials that will have a wide impact on the future of the whole planet.
Here are five of them. . .
Of all the promising new materials out there, this one comes closest to matching graphene's uses in electronics.
Like graphene, this new substance works in 2-D, meaning it has height and width but virtually no depth. It's a lubricant officially known as molybdenum disulfide. But I just called it "magic moly."
Here's why. A team at MIT says magic moly will work in a wide array of electronics. This, team members say, addresses a big concern that still limits graphene's use.
You see, experts still haven't found a way to make graphene work in chips and logic switches used in computers. Not so with magic moly.
Team members say the new substance could help usher in radically new products. These include whole walls that glow to clothing with embedded electronics to glasses with built-in display screens.
Not that the MIT team is knocking graphene. Far from it. Magic moly and graphene will play vital roles in the cutting-edge devices of the near future.
Both are "opening up the door to a completely new domain of electronic materials and devices," says team leader Tomás Palacios. "It's the most exciting time for electronics in the last 20 or 30 years."
A flexible new aerogel now ranks as the world's lightest solid material. No wonder they call it "solid smoke."
Think of an aerogel as dried Jello. It's a highly porous solid formed by replacing the particles in a gel with a gas. That's why it's so lightweight.
Chemists at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab created this new aerogel and say it could become the best material to insulate buildings and clothing known to man.
This aerogel is 5-10 times more efficient than current insulation, the team says. Just a quarter-inch-thick sheet provides as much insulation as three inches of fiberglass.
And there's no shortage of uses. Besides buildings, the gel could wrap around pipes, water heater tanks and other devices. Not to mention ultrathin thermal sleeping bags and clothing.
Even NASA wants in on the action. The agency hopes to use the aerogel as a liner for space suits and as a heat shield for spacecraft re-entry systems. Space pods need heat shields that keeps them from burning up when they reenter Earth's atmosphere.
A team at Northwestern University recently broke a world record by coming up with new material that contains the largest known surface area on Earth. This is a major advance because it adds a huge amount of storage density that could affect a number of fields.
Look at it this way. With these two new compounds, engineers can now pack a huge amount of chemicals into a substance the size of a grain of sand. Once unfolded, just a spoonful of this stuff would fill an area that's 50% bigger than a football field.
Simply named NU-109 and NU-110, these highly dense materials could have a wide range of uses, team members said. They could greatly help with drug delivery since more medicine would fit into each pill or capsule.
And that's not all. They could be used for storage systems for cars and trucks running on natural gas or hydrogen. They also could improve chemical sensors and catalysts widely used in industry, driving down costs and boosting profits.
Experts say a new material called "silicene" could give graphene a big run for its money. For the first time ever, scientists have turned a piece of silicon into a whole sheet of material that's just one atom thick.
In a recent report, the journal New Scientist noted that silicene compares well with graphene's electrical properties. But it may have one big plus—silicene should work well with a wide range of devices that now use silicon, such as the chips found in PCs and smart phones.
A team at Marseille University in France created silicene by condensing silicon vapor onto a silver plate to form a single layer of atoms. But they still have a challenge to tackle.
The next stage entails growing silicene on insulating substrates. The team needs to do that so they can get a complete picture of its electrical aspects. Researchers hope to harness silicene for a new generation of high-tech devices.
So once again, we see American teams are at the forefront of key advances that will have a huge impact on the world around us.
Like I keep saying, we have so many bright minds working on tough problems we can't help but succeed in the long run.
And breakthrough new materials will play a big part of what promises to be a very exciting future.
Michael A. Robinson