Graphene is already making its mark in real life. Researchers say that the wonder material could pave the way for the next generation of shoes.

The graphene shoe has a better grip and is reportedly stronger than conventional alternatives. Credits: inov-8.

Graphene is already a bit of a show-off, isn’t it? Not only is it extremely strong and light, it has remarkable electrical properties and promises to usher in a new age of material science. As if all that wasn’t enough, researchers have now incorporated it into shoe soles, improving their performance and durability.

The new running shoe was developed in Manchester, UK, where graphene was first produced by Andre Geim and his collaborators. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a reader in nanomaterials at the University of Manchester, says graphene is an excellent choice for shoes. He and his team mixed the wonder material with rubber, creating a compound with special properties.

“The graphene-enhanced rubber can flex and grip to all surfaces more effectively, without wearing down quickly, providing reliably strong, long-lasting grip.”

“It’s also extraordinarily flexible, and can be bent, twisted, folded and stretched without incurring any damage.”

The problem with shoe rubber is that you always end up having to compromise. If you want to improve the grip, you need to make the rubber softer, so that it deforms easily and grips on to the running surface. But soft rubber tends to wear down more quickly, as you also end up sacrificing some of the material’s strength in the process. Researchers have tried strengthening rubber and enhancing its properties, but in the end, you always end up sacrificing one thing for the other.

This is where graphene steps in. Not only does the material make the rubber stronger, but it also makes it more flexible. So instead of upgrading one aspect and downgrading the other, researchers have managed to upgrade both.

The new shoes are a collaboration between inov-8 and researchers from the University of Manchester. Image credits: inov-8.

“When added to the rubber used in inov-8’s G-Series shoes, graphene imparts all its properties, including its strength. Our unique formulation makes these outsoles 50% stronger, 50% more stretchy and 50% more resistant to wear than the corresponding industry standard rubber without graphene,” Vijayaraghavan adds.

The resulting material can easily be molded into the desired shape, meaning that the technology isn’t limited to shoes, but it could also be applied to surgical gloves, protection gear, and perhaps even tires.

“You mix it until it’s easily dispersed and then you mould your sole,” says Aravind Vijayaraghavan who worked on the project with the fitness brand inov-8.

It’s impressive just how far and how fast graphene has come, from being a lab material and onto the market. The G-series shoes, designed for trail running, cost at around £140 ($187) and will go on sale in 2018. Separate projects have already revealed graphene headphones, sensors, medical devices and a dress.