blue pencilEven though there are many exotic – and not so exotic – materials that can be used to make very sharp blades, what's interesting is the longevity of the current standard – the steel blade.

Steel as a material has been known to man for a very long time, with the earliest historical record of steel production dating back to 1800BC, found on an archaeological site in Turkey. The Romans used a type of steel known as 'Noric steel' in their swords (around 16BC), and at the same time in Sri Lanka monsoon winds drove wind furnaces which produced high carbon content steel.

Over time other production methods created other types of steel, including the popular Damascus steel used in knives today, and the Japanese also honed their art of creating very sharp steel blades epitomised by the katana sword (and the inspiration for our very own I.O.Shen knives).

As we covered in our previous articles (What is the sharpest blade on the planet? and What is the sharpest blade on the planet II) on sharp knives, glass, obsidian and diamond make very sharp cutting surfaces, but for one reason or another are unsuited for use in 'normal' kitchen knives and chefs knives (see why in those articles).

Now we have a new kid on the block in terms of potential knife blade material, and that is graphene. At this point we'd like to acknowledge that it was one of the readers of The Grind, Ed Ratledge, who let us know about the potential of graphene for knives in his recent comment on our article What is the sharpest blade on the planet II.

To be honest we didn't know much about graphene, but now we've done a bit of research!

Graphene is poised to be the new wonder material. Think of the impact silicon has had in the world of computing, and graphene may well be its successor in terms of technological impact.

What is even more amazing is that the material was discovered in 2004 almost by complete chance by two scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were polishing a large block of graphite using scotch tape (like you do!) and noticed very thin flakes of graphite on the scotch tape. They were able to peel several layers off these flakes until they got down to the thinnest layer – graphene.

Graphene is an 'allotrope' of carbon. Solid carbon can take a number of structural forms, such as diamond, graphite (as used in pencils like the one pictured) and charcoal, all of which have different arrangements of the atoms, and each of these is a carbon allotrope. In fact before it was discovered in 2004, scientists had theorised about the possible existence of graphene but had not been able to produce it.

In very simple terms graphene is basically a single atom layer sheet of graphite. What's impressive about it is its amazing properties. It is immensely strong – more than 100 times stronger than steel – and incredibly thin. In addition it is highly conductive and has a very strange property in that it is impermeable to most gases and liquids, but allows water through.

But although in theory its properties may make for an ultra sharp blade, there are other fields where it is likely to have more immediate impact. These include very thin electronic devices, much more efficient solar panels, much quicker semiconductors and much lighter and more rapidly charging batteries (if you're planning on getting an electric car, wait until they come with graphene batteries, at which point it will be game over for the internal combustion engine).

If you can't wait and want a graphene knife right now you can get one here – although they seem to be out of stock at the moment. We wouldn't suggest throwing out your kitchen knives just yet though – the main thing the graphene knife seems to be good at right now is cutting through an ice cube, due to the fact that it conducts the body heat from the users fingers to the ice cube incredibly quickly.

And as soon as I.O.Shen makes a graphene kitchen knife you will be the first to know!

More Info
Slicing ice with graphene
What is graphene
Graphene Wikipedia entry

Finally… it looks like Australia might be a major source of graphene now that scientists may have worked out how to extract graphene from gum trees