After the spectacle of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in the UK last week, the country is now preparing for its next big event: namely, the 2012 Olympics. As well as promising to showcase the greatest sportsmen and women on the planet, the Games will also bear witness to the work of materials scientists. From the materials used in sports equipment to enhance and monitor the performance of athletes, to the biomaterials used repair injuries and aid healing, to the materials used to meet the massive engineering challenges of building stadiums and maintaining a reliable transport system: the games is as much a celebration of materials as sporting prowess. Well, almost.

The Olympic torch will pass close the Elsevier offices in North Oxford next month, and the torch itself is a triumph of design and materials science. Designed by London based Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, the torch, or rather torches, will be carried around the UK by 8000 bearers. Commenting on their creation, designer Jay Osgerby remarked that “We were inspired by the engineering possibilities open to us and wanted it to be an expression of what's possible today”.

The torches measure 80 cm long and comprise inner and outer ‘skins’ made from an aluminum alloy that was originally created for the aerospace and automotive industries. Using physical vapor deposition, a thin film of titanium nitride was used to coat the torches to produce a golden finish. Thanks to the design, and the careful selection of materials, the torches are both strong and resistant to corrosion. Eight thousand holes decorate the torch, each machined by laser. By patterning the torch with a (very familiar) honeycomb pattern, the designers were able to create a structure that retained its original strength, but also helped reduce thermal conduction, and managed to reduce the weight to a mere 800 grams.

But of course, if low weight and high strength are key criteria for the torch, perhaps we can look forward to the incorporation of graphene in the 2016 Olympic Games?

And so that brings me on to the theme of this month's issue of Materials Today: low-dimensional materials. This edition contains five reviews on materials including graphene, metal-oxide nanosheets, and boron nitride. To begin, Jeanie Lau looks at suspended graphene devices, and their extraordinary mechanical, thermal, and electronic properties. Next, David Lou discusses tin and titanium dioxide nanosheets and their potential for lithium storage. Dmitri Golberg and co-workers consider boron nitride nanomaterials while Alex Balandin reveals the secrets of phonon engineering at low dimensions. Finally, Robert Haddon et al., review the role of covalent chemistry in graphene electronics.

Until next time, we hope you enjoy this issue of Materials Today.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(12)70100-1