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A TAILOR CALLED GRAPHENE, A MATERIAL WITH SELF-REPAIR PROPERTIES

The new, amazing property of graphene was revealed by Konstantin Novoselov and colleagues at the Manchester University. The discovery is described in the MIT Technology Review.

One of the countless properties of graphene is its self-repairing ability: if damaged, it regenerates itself, just like man’s skin following an injury.

We owe this sensational discovery to the scientists of the Manchester University – headed by Konstantin Novoselov, Nobel Laureate for physics for his studies on graphene – who performed several trials aimed at testing the behaviour of the material (which is highly interactive) as related to other elements.

The researchers perforated a layer of graphene using an electronic beam, then placed a few metal atoms – specifically nickel and palladium – near the “struck” areas, in order to promote the release of the bonds among the carbon atoms (which make up graphene). This is how they found that the size of the holes depended on the number of metal atoms – if more were added, larger and stable holes were created.

A strange event occurred then: the researchers tested the introduction of more carbon atoms near the holes – as described in the MIT Technology Review – and found that the metal atoms were swept away, while the hole “self-repaired”.

Novoselov observed that the structure of the repaired area depended on the form of the added carbon: in its purest form, in fact, this element allows perfect restoration of a flawless layer of graphene. If, on the other hand, it was introduced in the form of hydrocarbon (an organic compound that contains hydrogen, in addition to carbon), the repair was imperfect, being disrupted by the presence of new “foreign” atoms in the texture (hydrogen).

This discovery is important because it stimulates imagination about futurist technological scenarios as well as, in particular, because it suggests a way to “grow” graphene in any form, with a smart addition of metal and carbon atoms. This is not a predictable phenomenon though: science, in fact, is still not clear about how large and stable amounts of graphene can be obtained, or how it can be processed into the forms required to produce future devices, particularly due to its strong reactivity to other atoms and compounds that, as mentioned, can easily alter and disrupt its structure.

The challenge is open. It is now important to understand how quickly these processes can take place and whether they can be controlled in an accurate and reliable manner.

The Editorial Staff
Published on Monday, February 11, 2013

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