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Mass production method for nanotechnology wonder material

The publication of a method to mass produce graphene has opened the way to further study of this remarkable nanomaterial, and to its eventual use in a number of nanotech applications. From the University of California – Los Angeles, via AAAS EurekAlert, “Researchers discover method for mass production of nanomaterial graphene“, written by Mike Rodewaldof the UCLA Newsroom:

Graphene is a perfect example of the wonders of nanotechnology, in which common substances are scaled down to an atomic level to uncover new and exciting possibilities.

Graphene is created when graphite — the mother form of all graphitic carbon, which is used to make the pigment that allows pencils to write on paper — is reduced down to a one-atom-thick sheet. Graphene is among the strongest materials known and has an attractive array of benefits. These sheets —single-layer graphene — have potential as electrodes for solar cells, for use in sensors, as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and as efficient zero-band-gap semiconductors.

Research on graphene sheets has been restricted, though, due to the difficulty of creating single-layer samples for use in experiments. But in a study published online Nov. 9 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology [abstract], researchers from UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) propose a method which can produce graphene sheets in large quantities.

Led by Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and Richard Kaner, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry, the researchers developed a method of placing graphite oxide paper in a solution of pure hydrazine (a chemical compound of nitrogen and hydrogen), which reduces the graphite oxide paper into single-layer graphene.

Such methods have been studied by others, but this is the first reported instance of using hydrazine as the solvent. The graphene produced from the hydrazine solution is also a more efficient electrical conductor. Field-effect devices display output currents three orders of magnitude higher than previously reported using chemically produced graphene.

Kaner and Kang’s co-authors on the research were doctoral students Vincent Tung, from Yang’s lab, and Matthew Allen, from Kaner’s lab.

“We have discovered a route toward solution processing of large-scale graphene sheets,” Tung said. “These breakthroughs represent the future of graphene nanoelectronic research.”

The coverage of the graphene sheets can be controlled by altering the concentration and composition of the hydrazine solution. This hydrazine method also preserves the integrity of the sheets, producing the largest-area graphene sheet yet reported, 20 micrometers by 40 micrometers. A micrometer is one-millionth of a meter, while a nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

“These graphene sheets are by far the largest produced, and the method allows great control over deposition,” Allen said. “Chemically converted graphene can now be studied in depth through a variety of electronic tests and microscopic techniques not previously possible.”

—Jim

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