Vorbeck Inc.: Graphene works its way up the charts

Nov. 18, 2011
(This article was adapted from EQN, a publication of Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.)
For the past several years, the physics community has been abuzz with articles about graphene, a sort of wonder material made of single layers of carbon atoms. The commercial applications of graphene are just as exciting, entrepreneur John Lettow told EQN. Lettow is the president of Vorbeck Materials, founded in 2006 to commercialize graphene-based technologies invented in the laboratories of Princeton professors Ilhan Aksay and Robert Prud’homme.

“It’s terrific that top-flight physicists are pursuing this,” said Lettow. “But graphene is not just an academic exercise. It will have a big, immediate commercial impact.” Lettow graduated from Princeton Engineering in 1995 and did his senior thesis with Aksay.

Lettow said that graphene is likely to eclipse carbon nanotubes, one of the hottest areas of nanotechnology. Graphene promises many of the same exciting applications as carbon nanotubes, which are costly and difficult to manufacture.

Graphite, the most stable form of carbon on Earth, consists of many layers of graphene. Through a chemical process, Aksay and Prud’homme explode graphite into ultrathin individual sheets of graphene. The image above, captured by postdoctoral researcher Hannes Schniepp with an atomic force microscope, shows about 20 sheets of graphene. Each sheet is only a couple of nanometers high and 200 to 500 nanometers wide (to put this in perspective, the average human hair is about 40,000 nanometers wide).

Aksay and Prud’homme have collaborated in their graphene work with Princeton professor of chemistry Roberto Car, Princeton associate research scholar Je-Luen Li, and Konstantin Kudin, an associate research scholar at the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials. More information on Princeton's graphene-related research is available at the Ceramic Materials Laboratory. Read more about Vorbeck's products and history.

Vorbeck is an example of how a fundamental scientific discovery can be translated into a marketable product. Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing is committed to assisting the transfer of promising discoveries into new products and services.