Graphene looks like it's going to be one of the "wonder materials" of the future, and a science team at Cornell University has just demonstrated the world's smallest balloon made of it. They stuck sheets of graphene over microscopic wells (1 to 100 square micrometers) cut into silica glass, trapping gas inside. By varying the pressure in the wells, they could make the graphene bulge inwards or outwards like a balloon, and the membranes proved pretty resilient: They could withstand several atmospheres of pressure. Though, like real birthday party balloons, the gas leaked out after a few days, it apparently did so through the glass, not the graphene. These tiny air pockets may have future uses as micro-sized weighing scales or even precise pressure sensors: It's another case of an invention waiting to find a use. [New Scientist]
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