Graphene is arguably one of the most versatile materials in the world. Previous studies have shown that this carbon-based component can be used to make better water filtration systems, alternatives to batteries, touchscreens on mobile phones and even bionic devices that will be better absorbed by the human body.
Now, scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK have found that graphene can also be used to improve the strength and elasticity of rubber.
Dr. Maria Iliut and Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan sought out to discover how adding graphene would impact the properties of rubbery materials. For their experiment, they combined varying kinds and amounts of graphene with a natural type of rubber that contained polyisoprene and a synthetic one known as polyurethane.
The researchers saw that in most cases, the subsequent composite material was able to withstand greater forces and could even stretch at a far greater degree compared to regular rubber. They found that adding even only a very small amount of graphene to rubber is enough to make it 50 percent stronger and stretchier.
Vijayaraghavan explained that a composite combines the soft and light properties of one material with the strength of another, resulting in a new object that is both sturdy and light. This principle is commonly seen in the creation of Kevlar composites found in bulletproof vests and carbon fiber composites typically used in sports cars.
In the case of their experiment, Vijayaraghavan said that they were able to make the elastic yet fragile rubber stronger and stretchier after combining it with graphene.
The form of graphene Vijayaraghavan and Iliut used is known as graphene oxide, which is much more stable when dispersed in water compared to regular graphene. The types of rubbers they used were also stable in water. These properties allowed the researchers to combine both materials using the process of dip molding.
The researchers believe the new graphene and rubber composite can be used to create better materials for sportswear and medical devices, among other things. It can also be used to make better condoms.
"Our thinking was that if we could make the rubber used in condoms stronger and stretchier, then you could use that to make even thinner condoms which would feel better without breaking," Vijayaraghavan said.
The findings of the University of Manchester study are featured in the journal Carbon.