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Discovery reveals graphene's self-repair properties

25 July 2012

Scientists at The University of Manchester and the SuperSTEM facility at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory have discovered that graphene is capable of self-repair.

Graphene, comprising sheets of carbon just one atom thick, is a promising material for a wide range of future applications due, for instance, to its exceptional electronic properties. The team, led by Professor  Kostya Novoselov, who shared a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for exploiting the remarkable properties of  graphene, was originally looking to gain a deeper understanding into how metals interact with graphene - essential if it is to be integrated into practical electronic devices.

The researchers were using a powerful electron microscope at the SuperSTEM Laboratory at Daresbury, which allows scientists to study the properties of materials one atom at a time. They recently demonstrated that metals can initiate the formation of holes in the graphene sheet, which could be hugely detrimental to the properties of any graphene-based device. 

Surprise results then showed that some of the holes that had been created during this process were actually mending themselves spontaneously using nearby loose carbon atoms to re-knit the graphene structure.

Dr Quentin Ramasse, Scientific Director at SuperSTEM said: “This was a very exciting and unexpected result. The fact that graphene can heal itself under the right conditions may be the difference between a working device and a proof of concept without any real application. We may now have a way of not only drilling through graphene in a controlled fashion to sculpt it at the atomic level, but also to grow it back in new shapes. This adds a lot of flexibility to our nanotechnology toolbox and could pave the way to future technological applications".

The research, published in Nano Letters.

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