What is meant by „beyond Graphene“?

Source: flickr, libertyandvigilance, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Lego bricks are a little like the Graphene family.
Source: flickr, libertyandvigilance, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you followed my articles so far you may ask: Why is this blog called “…And Beyond Graphene.”, when all the blog posts are just about Graphene itself? The answer is that the family of layered materials similar to Graphene is actually pretty big. Before I come to that, let me explain how thin these layers actually are:

Graphene is known as the first two-dimensional (2D), or monolayer material. It is a flat sheet of one atomic thick layer carbon. Graphene is about 300,000 times thinner than common printer paper. Since it is so thin, it’s called 2D material. To get a sense of how thin graphene is, imagine a sheet of ordinary paper as thick as a six-story building. Compared to that buidling, Graphene is just as thin as the original sheet of paper.

In Graphene, carbon atoms are linked together in a chicken-wire pattern and formed a material with astonishing properties. It is flexible, stronger than steel and transparent. Graphene conducts electricity much better than copper and heat better than anything.

In short: Put in the form of Graphene, carbon acts like an entirely new material and doesn’t behave like carbon anymore.

Graphene can be made out of graphite. As I explained in “can I make my own graphene?” post, Graphite is a layered material. Within one layer, carbon atoms are bonded together with super strong bonding. Between layers, these sheets are held together by a very weak force, so it’s easy to remove these layers.

Graphene is just one member of a large number of 2D materials. Like any material, Graphene has its own drawbacks, which I will explain in my future posts. Because of these drawbacks, nowadays, chemists and material scientists are struggling to move beyond graphene. There has been a lot of research in recent years into synthesizing of other layered materials. So far, 500 types of layered material have been discovered. Most of these layered materials can keep their stability when they go down to a monolayer.

Some of these materials are semiconductors, some are insulators and some are conductive, so we have all the ingredients to make electronic chips just made of 2D materials. One of the most exciting facts about 2D materials is that one can easily stack them on top of each other and make structures that are still very thin. One can easily take advantage of the different properties of these various super thin materials and build entire electronic circuits out of atomically thin components and create previously unimagined devices. As Prof. Andras Kis mentioned in one his interesting talks,

“each one of these layered materials is like a Lego brick, and if you put them together, maybe you can build something completely new.”

Scientists are already turning some of these materials into thin, flexible, electronic and optical devices and they hope these layered materials will form the backbone of the future industries.

About Sarah Riazimehr

Sarah Riazimehr is pursuing her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Max Lemme in the Department of Elektrotechnische Bauelemente at the RWTH Aachen. Her current research interests focus on understanding the electrical and optical properties of graphene and the other 2D materials for technological applications, in particular 2D based photodetectors.

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