Inside Rensselaer
* Researchers Discover New Method for Mass-Producing Graphene

Graphene is an atom-thick sheet of carbon arranged in a honeycomb structure. It has unique mechanical and electrical properties and is considered a potential heir to copper and silicon as the fundamental building blocks of nanoelectronics, but is difficult to produce in bulk. A team of Rensselaer researchers has brought science a step closer to realizing this important goal.

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Researchers Discover New Method for Mass-Producing Graphene
Nanoelectronics are a step closer to your home with the development of a cost-effective method of mass-producing graphene — the atom-thick sheet of honeycombed carbon that offers promise as a replacement to copper and silicon.

The new technique works at room temperature, needs little processing, and paves the way for cost-effective mass production of graphene. Researchers have been searching for a cost-effective production method since graphene was discovered in 2004.

A team of interdisciplinary researchers has brought science a step closer to realizing this important goal. The researchers, led by Swastik Kar, research assistant professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy, have discovered a production method that works like a “molecular wedge,” separating sheets of graphene from the parent graphite. The wedge is formed by submerging graphite in a mixture of dilute organic acid, alcohol, and water, and then exposing it to ultrasonic sound. The process results in the creation of large quantities of undamaged, high-quality graphene dispersed in water. Kar and team then used the graphene to build chemical sensors and ultracapacitors.

“There are other known techniques for fabricating graphene, but our process is advantageous for mass production as it is low cost, performed at room temperature, devoid of any harsh chemicals, and thus is friendly to a number of technologies where temperature and environmental limitations exist,” Kar said. “The process does not need any controlled environment chambers, which enhances its simplicity without compromising its scalability. This simplicity enabled us to directly demonstrate high-performance applications related to environmental sensing and energy storage, which have become issues of global importance.”

Graphene eluded scientists for years but was finally made in the laboratory in 2004 with the help of a common office supply — clear adhesive tape. Graphite, the common material used in most pencils, is made up of countless layers of graphene. Researchers at first simply used the gentle stickiness of tape to pull layers of graphene from a piece of graphite.

Today, graphene fabrication is much more sophisticated. The most commonly used method, however, which involves oxidizing graphite and reducing the oxide at a later stage in the process, results in a degradation of graphene’s attractive conductive properties, Kar says. His team took a different route.

“We believe that our method also will be useful for applications of graphene which require an aqueous medium, such as biomolecular experiments with living cells, or investigations involving glucose or protein interactions with graphene,” he said.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 13, September 10, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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