THE CHALLENGE

How does a new discovery affect a simple
circuit?
GRADE LEVEL
Middle – high school
CONCEPTS
Students explore circuits, insulators and
conductors; learn that engineering involves
teamwork to solve problems; and discover
that engineering can help solve society's
challenges.
DISCUSSION
In 2010, Andre Geim and Konstantin
Novoselov jointly shared the Nobel Prize
"for groundbreaking experiments regarding
the two-dimensional material graphene." The
researchers, along with several collaborators,
were the first to isolate the layers of carbon
from the material graphite, which is used in
pencil "lead." Graphene consists of carbon
atoms; at just one atom thick, it is so thin as
to be essentially a two dimensional material.
To introduce the lesson, consider asking the
students what they know about insulators and
conductors and whether they think graphene
would behave in either way.
This is also a good activity to introduce the
concept of nanotechnology, if time allows.
See www.trynano.org.
SAFETY NOTICE
Students should NEVER attempt to run
electric current through a pencil because
this can cause the wood to catch on fire; this
activity should be supervised by adult leaders
at all times. Students should wear insulating
gloves when handling the connector clips, and
attach the battery last.
CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS
For each team of 3-4 students:
• Soft lead pencils
• Paper
• LED light
• 330 Ohm resistor (to prevent the LED
light from burning out)
• Insulated connectors
• 9 volt battery
PROCEDURE
• Hypothesize: Teams consider the
challenge and as a team theorize
whether they think graphene would
conduct or insulate electric current.
• Test: Teams first build a simple working
circuit using an LED light, battery and
resistor. The flow of electricity is from the
high potential (+) terminal of the battery
through the bulb (lighting it up), and
back to the negative (-) terminal, in a
continual flow.
• Redesign: Teams then adjust their circuit
so the current must flow through a paper
that they have rubbed lots of pencil onto.
(see diagram). Do NOT attach the connec-
tors to pencil lead that is still in a pencil.
• Result: Teams observe what happened
(does the graphene complete the circuit?),
compare their hypotheses to the actual
results and present their experiences to
the class.
Ask: Did you think that working as a team
made this project easier or harder? Why?
FURTHER EXPLORATION
Have students replace the graphene part of
the circuit with other materials; hypothesize
and test whether they are conductors or
resistors.
CONNECT TO ENGINEERING
Graphene is a wonder material, consisting
of carbon atoms densely packed into a honey-
comb-like crystal lattice. It is a hundred times
better than silicon at conducting electricity.
It is stronger than diamond.
Because these properties enable electrons to
flow much faster than silicon, its applications
will impact most industries. Graphene might
either improve a product or allow it to be
made smaller. Examples include cell phones,
transparent electrodes for solar cells and
plasma displays, computers and tablets. It is
possible to deposit a single layer of graphene
on a silicon wafer.
Ask: When a product is improved based on
new research or materials, who do you think
should be credited or compensated for the
enhanced product?
Activity provided by Engineers Week 2014 Co-Chair
IEEE-USA. Developed by IEEE. For more on graphene,
visit www.tryengineering.org/lessons/graphene.pdf.
For more advanced groups, or for longer class peri-
ods, the tryengineering.org website has a variety of
circuitry-related activities involving breadboards.
THE POWER
of Graphene
FEBRUARY 16-22, 2014
www.DiscoverE.org