Graphene could be used to make atomic-sized speakers with zero moving parts

Thermal variations in the air baby

Its potential applications range from making radioactive waste easier to dispose of, to making salt water drinkable, but soon we might be able to add ‘revolutionising speaker technology’ to a list of graphene’s achievements. 

Every speaker, from the massive arrays that flank the stage to the tiny drivers inside earbuds like Apple’s AirPods relies upon a moving coil or membrane to displace air. 

This is a good system, and engineers have gotten very good at producing great sounding speakers, but having these moving parts means that the mechanism takes up more space than it needs to. 

The new graphene method, published in the journal Scientific Reports and reported by Phys.org, involving rapidly heating and cooling the atomically thin material to cause the air around it to expand and contract, creating sound waves. 

Microscopic, transparent speakers

The new process not only allows speakers to be made that are much smaller than was previously possible but, thanks to graphene being transparent, it means that a layer of the material could be placed over a phone screen to turn the entire screen into a speaker. 

Phone bezels have already gotten fantastically thin with phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, but this new technology could see them reduce further still without having to compromise by putting the speaker on the side or the rear of the phone. 

However, although the research looks promising, graphene has a number of manufacturing problems that are holding it back from mass-market production. At the moment producing a ‘perfect’ sheet of graphene is proving difficult, meaning that they have about half the strength of a perfect sample. 

So while the list of potential applications continues to grow, the much needed development remains in graphene manufacturing.