A Samsung spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's graphene work.
Among those expressing enthusiasm for graphene is the U.S. military. In late 2011, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md., signed an agreement to study graphene's properties with Northeastern University in Boston. The agreement is mainly funded by a $300,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa.
The university plans to use graphene to design better night-vision goggles and other such detectors, says Srinivas Sridhar, a Northeastern physics professor. A Darpa representative, in an email, confirmed the project.
A walk through Dr. Ferrari's labs this summer gave a window into the research. One of his associates, Felice Torrisi, showed how tape could peel graphene from a graphite clump. "This is obviously not scalable" for industrial purposes, said Dr. Torrisi.
That speaks to a big goal in the graphene race: finding the best ways to manufacture it. A large number of patent filings describe methods of manufacturing graphene.
Dr. Torrisi next held up a vial of ink consisting of graphene in water. A nearby inkjet printer whizzed away, depositing the ink on a plastic sheet to form a near-invisible circuit. Ink printed on plastic was the trick behind the keyboard Dr. Ferrari tapped to trigger music from attached electronics.
In other Cambridge lab rooms, researchers showed off an early prototype of a graphene-based laser that can shoot out ultrafast pulses of light and graphene sensors that can detect any wavelength of light.
Graphene's heat-conducting properties appear to be at the heart of Apple's patent application, which includes drawings of a graphene "heat dissipator" behind components in a "portable electronic device." An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.