Courtesy Will Nicol, Digital Trends
In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond put forth that civilizations which spread out and conquer others do so as a result of geographic advantages. Access to certain plants and minerals, particular climates, even regional wildlife all — according to Diamond’s framework — determine which states thrive and which ones falter. A civilization is strong thanks to the resources it has access to, not the culture or genetic makeup of its people.
While Diamond’s book has been viewed with more skepticism recently (as happens with any work that proposes a universal framework for history), his hypothesis remains interesting. Resources often seem to coincide with historical leaps. Bronze and iron were so crucial to the spread of ancient civilizations that they have entire epochs named after them. With the rise of the American steel industry, railroad tracks spread from Atlantic to Pacific, metal veins that carried the blood of a nation. Silicon semiconductors enabled the growth of computers and the greatest surge in information technology since the printing press. These materials shaped the development of society, and helped determine which countries dominated international relations.
Today, a new material has the potential to alter the future. Dubbed a “supermaterial,” graphene has researchers the world over scrambling to better understand it. The material’s long list of superlative traits make it seem almost magical, but it could have very real and drastic implications for the future of physics and engineering.