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The Kid Should See This

Graphite up-close, a macro look at what’s inside your pencil

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What do pencils, batteries, and steel mills have in common?

In this clip from the Smithsonian Channel’s Inside the Factory, host Cherry Healey visits Manchester’s National Graphene Institute. There, Professor Sarah Haigh studies the structures and properties of nanomaterials, making her an electron microscope expert. Today’s focus: Graphite.


Through the electron microscope, graphite or pencil β€œlead” looks like mountain ranges. Zoom in closer, and it can look like shards of glass. What does graphite look like when it’s dragged across paper?

Then see how two tiny sticks of graphiteβ€”the kind embedded inside a pencilβ€”react when electricity is passed through them. Dr. Haigh explains:

“So the current that we’re seeing is like lightning. The graphite that we use here, because of its fantastic electrical conductivity, is used in all kinds of applications, like batteries.”

sparks between graphite sticks
And thanks to its heat resistance of over 3,000 degrees Celsius, graphite can be used in crucibles, foundries, and even within the cores of nuclear reactors.

Watch these related pencil videos next:
β€’ Graphite: Pencils, shiny rocks, and dead animals
β€’ How pencils are made at the Derwent Pencil Factory
β€’Β A Sketchy History Of Pencil Lead