Irish researchers find way to produce self-assembling graphene

13 Jul 2016

Graphene sample image via Prof Cross/AMBER

Researchers working at the AMBER centre in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have discovered a new behaviour in the wonder material graphene that allows it to spontaneously assemble into a variety of shapes.

Graphene is back to wow us with its unique properties again, this time with help from Irish researchers who unexpectedly stumbled across something that could open a whole new chapter in graphene-based electronics.

Measuring just one atom in thickness, graphene remains the poster child of the materials science field for its potentially revolutionary properties across a range of areas, from electronics to energy technology.

Future Human

Simplifying production of electronics

Now, to add to that list of applications, AMBER’s Prof Graham Cross and postdoctoral fellow Dr James Annett have found that they can induce graphene to spontaneously assemble into ribbons and other shapes while it is lying on a surface.

Aside from this effect being potent enough to make large graphene structures almost visible to the naked eye at room temperature, the researchers expect their findings will be useful to pattern graphene sheets to simplify the production of electronic and other devices in larger volumes.

Publishing their findings in Nature, Cross and Annett have shown that applied heat energy causes a flat graphene sheet to try to form its more familiar 3D graphite state.

This discovery, they believe, categorises it as a new class of solid matter behaviour specific to graphene sheets.

Expanding graphene gif

‘Beautiful, well-defined structures had formed’

Speaking of how the discovery occurred, the study’s co-author, Dr Annett, said: “I was investigating the properties of graphene as a kind of dry super-lubricant. One day I noticed that cut-out shapes that had been formed during my experiments were changing over time.

“When I looked more closely, I found that beautiful, well-defined structures had formed in the graphene sheets all by themselves. I realised then that the methods we were using to investigate friction were actually configuring the graphene to spontaneously rearrange itself.”

Adding to that, Cross has said that it opens up a new chapter for graphene research and manufacturing capabilities.

“Over 20 years ago, it was suggested that graphene could be deliberately folded and cut into useful shapes as a kind of molecular origami,” he said.

“Our discovery shows there exists a much richer potential for these kinds of two dimensional materials. We can make them behave like a self-animated sheet that folds, tears and slides while peeling itself away from a surface. Even better, we have figured out how to control the effect and make to it happen in different places in the sheet at the same time.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic