Chemists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that nano-sized water droplets can act as molecular chaperons that guide graphene into precise nano-shapes including capsules, knots, rings and even sandwiches. Graphene is a futuristic nanomaterial that forms sheets the thickness of one atom.
The finding is based on computer simulations, which show that water molecules can act on graphene without forming a chemical bond. If it proves commercially practical, it could advance the use of graphene in a wide range of more energy efficient and sustainable applications, from super-batteries and photovoltaics to desalination membranes.
Just One Word…Graphene
In 1967 the word was plastics. Now graphene seems to be taking over as the “it” material. Discovered just a few years ago, graphene can be processed and used to manufacture electronics, using familiar steps that have already been developed to process silicon. As one of the strongest known materials it is more robust than silicon, and more easily manipulated than another futuristic silicon alternative, carbon nanotubes. Graphene occurs naturally in flakes of graphite, a familiar material that is used in pencils, batteries, and brake linings. Scientists are developing ways to mass-produce graphene in a commercially useful form, for example by growing it on sheets of silicon carbide.
Graphene Shows the Way to a More Sustainable Future
The Chicago finding is complemented by a raft of new developments in graphene research, for example at Georgia Tech, where scientists have found that the electrons in graphene are far more mobile than in silicon, even at room temperature. This could lead to the development of graphene based electronic systems that are far smaller and more energy efficient than their silicon based counterparts. It could cut a significant chunk out of the global e-waste problem simply by reducing the size of most electronic products, while also cutting down on their carbon footprint.
Image: Water droplet by .ygor on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.