Graphene is emerging as a futuristic materials superhero that will drive us toward more energy efficient, durable, scaled-down electronics, among many other new technologies. However, every superhero has a weakness and researchers at Columbia University have just found it. If graphene was Superman, this would be its kryptonite. Perhaps a more broad analogy would be in any one of those comic book episodes where superheros reveal their all too human side, and crack under stress of seeming invincible – only to emerge stronger than ever.
Graphene and Strain
Graphene is a form of carbon that comes in sheets only one atom thick,. As reported by writer Holly Evarts, about two years ago scientists at Columbia University established proof that despite its practically vaporous thinness, pure graphene is the strongest known material known on earth. However, researchers are discovering that graphene can be manipulated, coaxed, and even “chaperoned” in many ways. One team of researchers has found that subjecting a sheet of graphene to a three-point strain creates nano-bubbles, in which electrons generate extremely high energy levels. At Columbia, the researchers found that graphene adopts a new, weaker configuration when subjected to an equal strain in all directions.
New, Improved Graphene
It may seem counter-intuitive, but discovering a vulnerability in a seemingly invincible substance is an important step toward real-life applications. Knowing the effect of strain on graphene, engineers and designers can develop extremely durable electronic systems and other uses that work around the potential weakness, or perhaps even exploit it, for example in certain “breakaway” devices.
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+.