In 2010, we all got enormously excited about graphene—highly conductive, nearly transparent, rust-resistant, bendy stuff that also happens to be the world’s thinnest, lightest, and strongest material. Graphene is a single layer of hexagonally-linked carbon atoms. It’s in graphite pencils, and was discovered by two physicists playing with household tape in 2004. Today, science checks in on this ordinary, extraordinary material.

Even when quilted together from smaller pieces, graphene is the strongest material in the world
There’s no doubt that graphene is strong in its purest form (scientists say it would take an elephant standing on a pencil to punch through a sheet as thin as Saran Wrap), but large sheets can only be feasibly made by “stitching” together grains of graphene. Previous research shed doubts on the strength of stitched graphene, but a new study reveals that even with the defect of grain boundaries, it’s still just about as strong. This is a great step towards realizing graphene’s potential for everyday technology.

Graphene sensors could be used for ultra low-light photography
Scientists in Singapore have invented a graphene sensor that’s thought to be 1,000 more light sensitive than the ones currently used in cameras. In this sensor, an engineered nanostructure on a graphene sheet “traps” electrons for longer, and can detect light over a broad range of wavelengths. Not only that, the sensor also uses less energy than current ones, and, if mass produced, could be cheaper. However, the initial idea is to use it in things like satellites and surveillance cameras.

UC Berkeley scientists make a Graphene gel that could improve soft-bodied robots
The hydrogel contains graphene and a synthetic protein similar to elastin, which is in human skin and blood vessels. The protein is created by genetically engineered bacteria, and expands and shrinks in reaction to temperature changes. Near-infrared laser light heats the graphene, and you get little wiggling robot fingers: