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Impossible Questions: Sweet Science Edition – The Answer

April 24, 2014

Think you’ve got a legitimate answer to this crazy question? Keep reading to see if you nailed it.

How can common table sugar be turned into a billion dollars?

Impossible-QuestionsBecause scientists have figured out how to turn sugar—cheap, plentiful sugar—into a lab-created substance called graphene. Developed over the last ten years, graphene is the single strongest substance in the world, and yet it’s also completely flexible. Graphene is produced in sheets of treated carbon that are just one atom thick.

Zhengzong Sun, a chemistry graduate student at Rice University in Houston has been experimenting with different carbon sources in his attempts to create graphene sheets. First, he began with polymethyl methacrylate—Plexiglas—and spun it onto a copper base. Under heat (no more than 800 degrees, or the atoms can’t stay charged) and pressure, and with argon and hydrogen gas flowing over the Plexiglas for 10 minutes, he reduced it to pure carbon, and then made graphene. Then, just to see what would happen, Sun tried using other sources rich in carbon, and ones far more plentiful and cheaper than Plexiglas. He tried table sugar. Under the same, relatively simple process, it too became an atom-thick sheet of graphene.

Graphene’s industrial possibilities are staggering—and lucrative. It’s so electrically conductive that it can facilitate the downloading of a terabit of data in a second or charge up a phone instantly. It’s also a promising material to purify water, clump together radioactive waste (so it can be easily disposed of), and as an unbreakable material for smartphone touchscreens. And it all could come from simple sugar.

Want more impossible questions? Check out Uncle John’s Impossible Questions.

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