Model of a two-dimensional graphene layer with an enlargement of the structure.Model of a two-dimensional graphene layer with an enlargement of the structure.

Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of carbon and is considered to be a new wonder molecule. Its production became possible only very recently and graphene is now available for various applications. The term graphene is often applied to many members of the family of graphene-based materials the two most important members being graphene and graphene oxide (GO). Graphene is transparent, flexible and very stable on a molecular level. Various future uses of graphene and graphene oxide are expected, from applications in the fields of electronics, photonics, composite materials, energy generation and storage, sensors, metrology to uses in biomedicine.

 

How can I come in contact with this material?

Currently, graphene is still an experimental material, which was first discovered in 2004. Therefore, there are only few products or applications on the market (e.g. a tennis racket). The most likely path currently for someone to get into contact is via inhalation (breathing in) of graphene nanoparticles or graphene oxide nanoparticles in a laboratory environment.

 

Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?

So far it is too early to conclude on positive or negative biological effects on humans, but first experiments with animals showed that lung damage can occur after inhalation of graphene nanoparticles. Concern has been raised by lung specialists about the safety of graphene and graphene oxide. They strongly recommend that appropriate inhalation (lung uptake) experiments of graphene must be undertaken in order to better understand the respiratory safety profile of this group of materials.

 

Conclusion

At present graphene and graphene oxide are still experimental materials and mainly important for research. The incidence of potential exposure to these materials is very small at this point in time, but it will be important to follow what the future for this material holds in terms of its human and environmental safety profile.

 

 

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