Monday, January 23, 2012

Graphene 'Invisible' to Water: Graphene is the Thinnest Material Known to Science. The Nanomaterial is So Thin, in Fact, Water Often Doesn’t Even Know it’s There - Genius!

""Engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rice University coated pieces of gold, copper, and silicon with a single layer of graphene, and then placed a drop of water on the coated surfaces. Surprisingly, the layer of graphene proved to have virtually no impact on the manner in which water spreads on the surfaces.

Results of the study were published in the journal Nature Materials. The findings could help inform a new generation of graphene-based flexible electronic devices. Additionally, the research suggests a new type of heat pipe that uses graphene-coated copper to cool computer chips.

The discovery stemmed from a cross-university collaboration led by Rensselaer Professor Nikhil Koratkar and Rice Professor Pulickel Ajayan.""

"""We coated several different surfaces with graphene, and then put a drop of water on them to see what would happen. What we saw was a big surprise -- nothing changed. The graphene was completely transparent to the water," said Koratkar, a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer. "The single layer of graphene was so thin that it did not significantly disrupt the non-bonding van der Waals forces that control the interaction of water with the solid surface. It's an exciting discovery, and is another example of the unique and extraordinary characteristics of graphene."

Results of the study are detailed in the Nature Materials paper "Wetting transparency of graphene."

Essentially an isolated layer of the graphite found commonly in our pencils or the charcoal we burn on our barbeques, graphene is single layer of carbon atoms arranged like a nanoscale chicken-wire fence. Graphene is known to have excellent mechanical properties. The material is strong and tough and because of its flexibility can evenly coat nearly any surface. Many researchers and technology leaders see graphene as an enabling material that could greatly advance the advent of flexible, paper-thin devices and displays. Used as a coating for such devices, the graphene would certainly come into contact with moisture. Understanding how graphene interacts with moisture was the impetus behind this new study.""

""The spreading of water on a solid surface is called wetting. Calculating wettability involves placing a drop of water on a surface, and then measuring the angle at which the droplet meets the surface. The droplet will ball up and have a high contact angle on a hydrophobic surface. Inversely, the droplet will spread out and have a low contact angle on a hydrophilic surface.

The contact angle of gold is about 77 degrees. Koratkar and Ajayan found that after coating a gold surface with a single layer of graphene, the contact angle became about 78 degrees. Similarly, the contact angle of silicon rose from roughly 32 degrees to roughly 33 degrees, and copper increased from around 85 degrees to around 86 degrees, after adding a layer of graphene.

These results surprised the researchers. Graphene is impermeable, as the tiny spaces between its linked carbon atoms are too small for water, or a single proton, or anything else to fit through. Because of this, one would expect that water would not act as if it were on gold, silicon, or copper, since the graphene coating prevents the water from directly contacting these surfaces. But the research findings clearly show how the water is able to sense the presence of the underlying surface, and spreads on those surfaces as if the graphene were not present at all.""

""As the researchers increased the number of layers of graphene, however, it became less transparent to the water and the contact angles jumped significantly. After adding six layers of graphene, the water no longer saw the gold, copper, or silicon and instead behaved as if it was sitting on graphite.

The reason for this perplexing behavior is subtle. Water forms chemical or hydrogen bonds with certain surfaces, while the attraction of water to other surfaces is dictated by non-bonding interactions called van der Waals forces. These non-bonding forces are not unlike a nanoscale version of gravity, Koratkar said. Similar to how gravity dictates the interaction between Earth and the sun, van der Waals forces dictate the interaction between atoms and molecules.""

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