This image shows the new chemical method for depositing nanomaterials on graphene. Image: Vikas Berry.
This image shows the new chemical method for depositing nanomaterials on graphene. Image: Vikas Berry.

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have discovered a new chemical method that allows graphene to be incorporated into a wide range of applications while maintaining its ultra-fast electronics.

Graphene, a lightweight, thin, flexible material, can be used to enhance the strength and speed of computer display screens, electric/photonics circuits, solar cells, and various medical, chemical and industrial processes, among other things. It comprises a single layer of carbon atoms bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons.

Isolated for the first time 15 years ago by a physics professor at the University of Manchester in the UK, it is so thin that it is considered two-dimensional and thought to be the strongest material on the planet.

Together with colleagues, Vikas Berry, associate professor and department head of chemical engineering at UIC, used a chemical process to deposit nanomaterials on graphene without changing the properties and arrangement of its carbon atoms. In doing so, the UIC scientists were able to retain graphene's electron mobility, which is essential for high-speed electronics. By depositing plasmonic silver nanoparticles on graphene, for example, they were able to boost the efficiency of graphene-based solar cells by a factor of 11. The scientists report their findings in a paper in Nano Letters.

Instead of adding molecules to the individual carbon atoms of graphene, Berry's new method adds metal atoms, such as chromium or molybdenum, to the six atoms making up each hexagonal ring. Unlike carbon-centered bonds, this bond is delocalized, which keeps the carbon atoms' arrangement undistorted and planar, so that the graphene retains its unique properties of electrical conduction.

According to Berry, this new chemical method for depositing nanomaterials on graphene will revolutionize graphene technology by expanding the scope of its applications.

"It's been a challenge to interface graphene with other nano-systems because graphene lacks an anchoring chemistry," he said. "And if graphene's chemistry is changed to add anchors, it loses its superior properties. The distinction of our chemistry will enable integration of graphene with almost anything, while retaining its properties.

"We envision that our work will motivate a worldwide move towards 'ring-centered' chemistries to interface graphene with other systems."

This story is adapted from material from the University of Illinois at Chicago, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.