Its multiple potential applications and the range of possibilities it opens up have earned graphene what is probably the most curious nickname in modern science: that of “wonder material” or even “miraculous”. Bazas certainly has. Graphene could help us improve roads and even sensitive robotic tissues. However, he is not the only one who opts for the title.
Scientists have known for some time that there is another form of carbon, graphene, with certain similarities to graphene. Of course, they knew thanks to computer simulations and at a theoretical level because synthesizing it is not easy and all efforts had so far yielded “limited success.” Despite the work and studies, we had only achieved a few fragments.
Until now. A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder has just successfully synthesized it, opening up a horizon of possibilities for research into electronics, optics, and semiconductor materials thanks to its interesting conduction properties. “The whole audience, the whole field, is excited for this old problem or imaginary material to come true,” explains Yiming Hu, lead author of the study, published in Nature Synthesis.
New solutions for old challenges
Scientists have long been interested in developing new allotropes of carbon for their industrial level applications and versatility. The best known are graphite, which we use in pencils and batteries, and diamonds. With the help of traditional chemical methods, scientists have created, for example, fullerene or graphene, so important that they have already won several Nobel Prizes. Another of the materials synthesized not long ago and with interesting potential is borophene.
They had been less fortunate with graphine, about which scientists have been theorizing for some time and from which they expect unique optical, mechanical and electron-conducting properties.
How have the University of Colorado Boulder team managed to unravel this situation? Using innovative techniques. “We brought the problem and used a new tool to solve an old problem that was really important,” says Wei Zhang, a professor of chemistry. Specifically, they used a process called alkyne metathesis. And it worked for them.
“The group was able to successfully create what had never been created before: a material that could rival the conductivity of graphene, but with control,” explains the university in an official statement. Zhang points out that there is “a pretty big difference in a good way” between graphine and graphene, warning, “This could be the next-generation wonder material.”
Although your success is important, it does not mean that there is no work ahead. The team still has to analyze in detail the material and how to handle it and manufacture it on a large scale.
“We hope that in the future we can reduce costs and simplify the reaction procedure. And then hopefully people can actually benefit from our research,” Hu says. His goal is to discover how the optical and electron-conducting properties of graphine can be used, for example, in the industry that manufactures lithium-ion batteries.
Cover Image | University of Colorado Boulder
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism