The wonder stuff that could change the world: Graphene is so strong a sheet of it as thin as clingfilm could support an elephant

It is tougher than diamond, but stretches like rubber. It is virtually invisible, conducts electricity and heat better than any copper wire and weighs next to nothing. Meet graphene — an astonishing new material which could revolutionise almost every part of our lives.

Some researchers claim it’s the most important substance to be created since the first synthetic plastic more than 100 years ago.

If it lives up to its promise, it could lead to mobile phones that you roll up and put behind your ear, high definition televisions as thin as wallpaper, and bendy electronic newspapers that readers could fold away into a tiny square.

It could transform medicine, and replace silicon as the raw material used to make computer chips.

The ‘miracle material’ was discovered in Britain just seven years ago, and the buzz around it is extraordinary.

Last year, it won two Manchester University scientists the Nobel Prize for physics, and this week Chancellor George Osborne pledged £50 million towards developing technologies based on the super-strong substance.

In terms of its economics, one of the most exciting parts of the graphene story is its cost. Normally when scientists develop a new wonder material, the price is eye-wateringly high.

But graphene is made by chemically processing graphite — the cheap material in the ‘lead’ of pencils. Every few months researchers come up with new, cheaper ways of mass producing graphene, so that some experts believe it could eventually cost less than £4 per pound.

But is graphene really the wonder stuff of the 21st century?

For a material with so much promise, it has an incredibly simple chemical structure. A sheet of graphene is just a single layer of carbon atoms, locked together in a strongly-bonded honeycomb pattern.

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