New experiments conducted at MIT show that a one-atom-thick material called graphene, a form of pure carbon whose atoms are joined in a chicken-wire-like lattice, behaves quite differently depending on the nature of material it’s wrapped around.
- New MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) findings show that the material beneath the thin carbon sheets determines how they react chemically and electrically.
When sheets of graphene are placed on substrates made of different materials, fundamental properties — such as how the graphene conducts electricity and how it interacts chemically with other materials — can be drastically different, depending on the nature of the underlying material.
The reason, it turns out, is that the material is so thin that the way it reacts is strongly affected by the electrical fields of atoms in the material beneath it. This means that it is possible to create devices with a micropatterned substrate — made up of some silicon dioxide regions and some coated with boron nitride — covered with a layer of graphene whose chemical behavior will then vary according to the hidden patterning. This could enable, for example, the production of microarrays of sensors to detect trace biological or chemical materials.
Ultimately, graphene could even become a protective coating for many materials. For example, the one-atom-thick material, when bonded to copper, completely eliminates that metal’s tendency to oxidize (which produces the characteristic blue-green surface of copper roofs).