Graphene Poised To Revolutionize the Speaker Industry
For all intents and purposes, graphene is not a new material. The honey-comb shaped carbon is simply a single layer of graphite - for reference, three million layers is about 1 mm of graphite - that has been fundamental in flexible phones, retooling the modern day battery, the world's thinnest transistor, and even stopping a speeding bullet.
So maybe revolutionizing the way we listen to music isn't the most flashy achievement on the list but it is certainly set to change the game forever. Traditionally, speakers haven't changed too much over the past few decades. Yes, we've come a long way from Edison's horns vibrating on wax, but the modern day electromagnetic speaker has been the king for a while.
What makes graphene unique is there are no moving parts. None.
Researchers at the University of Exeter have created a way to produce noise by rapidly heating and cooling an "anatomically thin" graphene sheet with electric currents. Nearby air expands and contracts, much like the traditional speaker membrane, creating sound. Controlled currents can mix frequencies together and amplify specific sounds. The final product is thermoacoustics, something Dr. David Horell is criminally underrated.
“Thermoacoustics (conversion of heat into sound) has been overlooked because it is regarded as such an inefficient process that it has no practical applications," said Dr. Horsell, a Senior Lecturer in the Quantum Systems and Nanomaterials Group at Exeter. "We looked instead at the way the sound is actually produced and found that by controlling the electrical current through the graphene we could not only produce sound but could change its volume and specify how each frequency component is amplified. Such amplification and control opens up a range of real-world applications we had not envisaged.”
Researchers further claim it combines a "speaker, amplifier and graphic equalizer into a chip the size of a thumbnail."
Although the breakthrough is relatively new, the applications are way too intriguing to pass up. Ultra-thin, non-mechanical speakers could be so thin they would become nearly transparent. Manufacturers could realistically 'mount' speakers to a flexible LCD screen, producing both sound and images at the same time. It could even turn almost every home surface - walls, ceilings, counter tops - into high-fidelity speakers. It's one of those tech revolutions that will surely blend quickly into integrators toolbox and will make some really kick-ass projects for audiophiles.