HOUSTON -- (Oct. 20, 2011) -- Giant flakes of graphene oxide in water aggregate like a stack of pancakes, but infinitely thinner, and in the process gain characteristics that materials scientists may find delicious.
A new paper by scientists at Rice University and the University of Colorado details how slices of graphene, the single-atom form of carbon, in a solution arrange themselves to form a nematic liquid crystal in which particles are free-floating but aligned.
That much was already known. The new twist is that if the flakes – in this case, graphene oxide – are big enough and concentrated enough, they retain their alignment as they form a gel. That gel is a handy precursor for manufacturing metamaterials or fibers with unique mechanical and electronic properties.
The team reported its discovery online this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Soft Matter. Rice authors include Matteo Pasquali, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry; James Tour, the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science; postdoctoral research associate Dmitry Kosynkin; and graduate students Budhadipta Dan and Natnael Behabtu. Ivan Smalyukh, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, led research for his group, in which Dan served as a visiting scientist.
"Graphene materials and fluid phases are a great research area," Pasquali said. "From the fundamental point of view, fluid phases comprising flakes are relatively unexplored, and certainly so when the flakes have important electronic properties.
Behabtu added that heating the gel "crosslinks the flakes, and that's good for mechanical strength. You can even heat graphene oxide enough to reduce it, stripping out the oxygen and turning it back into graphite."
Co-authors of the paper are Angel Martinez and Julian Evans, graduate students of Smalyukh at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter, the Colorado Renewable and Sustainable Energy Initiative, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Lab, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Welch Foundation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Quality and Installation Program and M-I Swaco supported the research.
Contact: Mike Williams firstname.lastname@example.org 713-348-6728 Rice University