Scientist leads development of new ‘wonder material’ that’s stronger than steel


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A passion for science has guided Zina Jarrahi Cinker since she was a child. As a student, she fell in love with a brand new material called graphene.

“Sometimes you see something and you just want to learn more about it. That was it with graphene,” says Cinker. “It was exciting and exotic enough that I just couldn’t look away.”

Cinker moved to Nashville from Belgium to get her PhD in physics at Vanderbilt University and ended up staying for her post doctorate work on graphene.

Graphene is a uniquely strong material discovered in 2004 that most people have never heard of. Researchers at Vanderbilt University call it a “wonder material.”

“Graphene is one atomic layer of carbon,” explains Cinker. “It is the thinnest material yet the strongest material ever known to man – 200 times stronger than steel.”

Cinker is Executive Director of the National Graphene Association, a post she accepted in Spring of 2017. Her mission is to promote and advance this new composite material that could drastically change manufacturing.

So far, graphene is in just a few products, such as tennis rackets and batteries. Cinker says it will soon be part of everyday consumer goods.

“Composite industry, electronics industry, biomedical industry, water filtration, we have sportswear that is enhanced with graphene. So you can put graphene in certain sportswear and you can increase the thermal conductivity of it so you don’t get hot.”

Part of her work is to figure out how to take graphene out of the lab and commercialize it.

Cinker says she learned a lot about business strategy from her advisor at Vanderbilt, Norman Tolk. Today, she and Tolk are still working together to get graphene out of the lab and into the outside world.

As an advisor, his goal is to help his students reach their fullest potential.

“Zina is one of the greatest examples of this,” says Tolk. “She has had the commitment to do a PhD and then go on to make an impact on the world.”

Cinker’s immediate goal is to get scientists and entrepreneurs talking about graphene at conferences and workshops, according to Research News at Vanderbilt.

She is cautiously optimistic about her innovative mission.

“I pursue challenges. Hopefully I can accomplish what I set my mind to with the National Graphene Association and getting it into the commercial space and then I can say OK my work is done and what’s next I don’t know,” she said.

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