Graphene could still meet the fate of other touted materials that failed to live up to their promise. The discovery of high-temperature superconductors garnered a Nobel Prize in 1987 and led to a flood of patents and predictions of technologies such as superfast magnetically-levitated trains. The world is still waiting.
That still leaves plenty of scientific enthusiasm. In 2012, scientists published 45% more papers on graphene than in 2011, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science, an index of journals.
It's a global race: Chinese entities had filed for the most graphene-patent applications cumulatively as of May, followed by U.S. and South Korean filers, says Cambridge Intellectual. Samsung accounted for the most filings, followed by IBM and South Korea's Sungkyunkwan University.
While labs work out graphene's kinks, some of the patents have found their way into products. Vorbeck Materials Corp., of Jessup, Md., makes a graphene ink it says is being used to print circuits in antitheft packaging in a few U.S. stores, which it declined to name.
Head's racket is reflected in an application it filed for a patent on graphene in a wide range of sports gear, from golf clubs to ski bindings. A Head representative referred inquiries to its website, which says graphene's strength lets it use less material in the racket, allowing the designer to redistribute the weight for more power.
Bluestone Global Tech Ltd., a Wappingers Falls, N.Y., startup, makes graphene sheets it says it ships to customers in the U.S., Singapore and China. "Within half a year, graphene will be used for touch screens in commercially available cellphones," predicts Chung-Ping Lai, its chief executive officer.
The graphene frenzy was unimaginable before 2003, when many scientists believed an atom-thick layer of anything couldn't keep from falling apart.