Scientists have taken inspiration from one of the oldest natural materials to exploit the extraordinary qualities of graphene, a material set to revolutionise fields from computers and batteries to composite materials.
Published today in Nature Communications, a Monash University study led by Professor Dan Li has established, for the first time, an effective way of forming graphene, which normally exists in very thin layers, into useful three-dimensional forms by mirroring the structure of cork.
Graphene is formed when graphite is broken down into layers one atom thick. In this form, it is very strong, chemically stable and an excellent conductor of electricity. It has a wide range of potential applications, from batteries that are able to recharge in a matter of seconds, to biological tissue scaffolds for use in organ transplant and even regeneration.
Professor Li, from the Department of Materials Engineering, said previous research had focused mainly on the intrinsic properties and applications of the individual sheets, while his team tackled the challenge of engineering the sheets into macroscopically-useable 3D structures.
"When the atomic graphene sheets are assembled together to form 3D structures, they normally end up with porous monoliths that are brittle and perform poorly," Professor Li said.
"It was generally thought to be highly unlikely that graphene could be engineered into a form that was elastic, which means it recovers well from stress or pressure."
The researchers used cork, which is lightweight yet strong, as a model to overcome this challenge.
PhD student, Ling Qiu, also from the Department of Materials Engineering, said modern techniques have allowed scientists to analyse the structure of such materials and replicate nature's efficient design.
"The fibres in cork cell walls are closely packed to maximise strength and individual cells connect in a honeycomb structure which makes the material very elastic," Mr Qiu said.
Using a method called freeze casting, the researchers were able to form chemically modified graphene into a 3D structure that mimicked cork. The graphene blocks produced were lighter than air, able to support over 50,000 times their own weight, good conductors of electricity and highly elastic - able to recover from over 80 per cent deformation.
"We've been able to effectively preserve the extraordinary qualities of graphene in an elastic 3D form, which paves the way for investigations of new uses of graphene - from aerospace to tissue engineering," Professor Li said.
"Mimicking the structure of cork has made possible what was thought to be impossible."
Monash University: http://www.monash.edu.au
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
A laser-driven particle accelerator just 9 centimetres long is gearing up to rival heavyweights like the Large Hadron Collider
An inside look at Corning’s labs suggests what’s next for the inventor of Gorilla Glass.Someday your smartphone might be able to help you in a new way when you’re traveling: by telling you whether the water is safe to drink.
Scientists shed light on the energetic emission of radiation that occurs in thunderstorms.
NASA's Mars rover has sniffed out short-lived bursts of methane, but whether it's Martian life or just a geological by-product is still unclear
CERN's Large Hadron Collider will be turned back on in March and a few weeks later will start smashing sub-atomic particles together again at nearly double its previous power, helping scientists hunt for clues about the universe.
The flat disc shape of the Milky Way galaxy had been a mystery. Now simulations suggest it could be thanks to winds driven by charged particles
Understanding the different ways in which birds get their vivid hues could help us make coloured displays for devices such as e-readers
The water and sediment flow might have been massive enough to build a mountain, NASA researchers say.
Liquids come in many forms, from bubbles and droplets to jets and sheets. Henri Lhuissier of Paris Diderot University and his colleagues use high-speed cameras to zoom in on the physics behind all kinds of liquid phenomena, which arise throughout nature, such as in the formation of raindrops and morning dew
There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about the Higgs boson. Now, you can help make the next discovery.