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Light, Soap and Magnets Turn Graphene into “Black Gold”

Credit: arsdigital

Graphene is made up of a hexagonal array of carbon atoms, and each sheet is only one atom thick. Credit: arsdigital

By Rico Tabor

Some clever chemistry is employing magnetism and a light-sensitive soap to turn simple graphene into a super-material with applications in water purification and electronic devices.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It’s almost impossible to pick up a scientific publication at the moment without reading something about graphene or one of its carbon cousins, including nanotubes and buckyballs. Graphene itself is simply an individual layer of the common mineral graphite – the black material in pencil lead – pure carbon atoms bonded together in an ultra-strong hexagonal pattern.

A significant proportion of graphene’s appeal is that it retains graphite’s electrical conductivity due to a phenomenon known as delocalisation, where some of the electrons that each carbon atom brings are shared throughout the structure and act as charge carriers. In fact, perfect sheets of graphene are exceptional conductors of both electricity and heat, making them an exciting proposition for the next generation of electronic devices.

However, it’s still a major technological challenge to make large quantities of graphene. The forces that hold the layers together are strong, and to overcome them requires a lot of mechanical energy. This was first memorably achieved by literally peeling layers off using tape, although this method doesn’t scale well to produce larger amounts. An alternative to the mechanical approach is to use some clever chemistry, and this is where graphene oxide comes into the picture.

Graphene oxide is a version of graphene that has been oxidised – the sheets have been...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.