Cyrus Mody Featured in The New Yorker article on Graphene

Cyrus Mody

In a recent article in The New Yorker by John Colapinto, CNS collaborator and historian of technology Cyrus Mody offers insight into the challenges of commercializing new technologies.“It’s less about a disruptive technology and more about moments when the linkages among a set of technologies reach a point where it’s feasible for them to change lots of practices,” Mody says in the article. “Steam engines had been around a long time before they became really disruptive. What needed to happen were changes in other parts of the economy, other technologies linking up with the steam engine to make it more efficient and desirable.”

The article, titled "Material Question," looks at the nanomaterial graphene, an atom-thick layer of carbon, and uses it as a case study for the path that a potentially game-changing discovery takes to commercializable application, or alternatively, the dustbin of history.  Graphene presents several possible applications from medicine to electronics. Because it can conduct electricity at up to 250 times the rate of silicon, makers of computer chips were initially hopeful that graphene might be able to replace the ubiquitous semiconductor. However, they have not yet been able to engineer graphene to act as a switch, or to turn on and off, which silicon does in an electric field.

Mody and other experts quoted in the article point out that the application of a new technology does not necessarily follow the trajectory of hype that that technology receives. The book on graphene then, is still yet to be finalized.

Mody is a professor in the Department of History at Rice University. He is the author of Instrumental Community: Probe Microscopy and the Path to Nanotechnology (MIT Press, 2011).