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Graphene the ‘Miracle Material’ may be Deadly to Humans

Graphene has been described as a ‘miracle material’. It is basically just a one atom thick sheet of carbon that is immensely strong and has incredible electronic, mechanical, and photonic properties. It has the potential to revolutionise fields such as electronics, solar energy, batteries, and medical devices, yet because it was only discovered around ten years ago there are still many aspects of its use that are unknown.

New research from Brown University has revealed that grapheme may in fact be very toxic to human cells, throwing into doubt manufacturing techniques, and real world applications.

It turns out that the sharp edges on grapheme micro-sheets are able to easily pierce cell membranes, from whence on they are then absorbed by the cell and once fully inside begin to disrupt the cells normal functions.

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graphene microsheet
A jagged graphene microsheet with the bottom corner stuck in an animal cell. Scale bar is equal to two microns. (Cleantechnica)

Results from the initial studies warrant further investigation in order to determine the full extent to which grapheme may affect human and animal health.

Agnes Kane, the author of the study and chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Brown, explained that “at a fundamental level, we want to understand the features of these materials that are responsible for how they interact with cells. If there’s some feature that is responsible for its toxicity, then maybe the engineers can engineer it out.”

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The worry is that during its manufacture, or merely during normal wear and tear of a grapheme product in a working environment, microscopic splinters could be chipped off and unintentionally inhaled. Robert Hurt, a professor of engineering and another author of the study, said that “these materials can be inhaled unintentionally, or they may be intentionally injected or implanted as components of new biomedical technologies. So we want to understand how they interact with cells once inside the body.”

In the write up of the Brown University study, it was described that “Annette von dem Bussche, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, was able to verify the model experimentally. She placed human lung, skin and immune cells in Petri dishes along with graphene microsheets. Electron microscope images confirmed that graphene entered the cells starting at rough edges and corners. The experiments showed that even fairly large graphene sheets of up to 10 micrometers could be completely internalized by a cell.”

Kane suggests that this news should not have a negative impact on the application of graphene in the future because it is used to create “man-made materials, so we should be able to be clever and make them safer.”

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • evodevo on July 17 2013 said:
    Think asbestos ....
  • Winston Kodogo on July 16 2013 said:
    Is it 'graphene' or 'grapheme'?
  • Jay Schiavone on July 16 2013 said:
    "...we should be able to be clever..."
    The check, as they say, is in the mail.

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