Turning to kirigami, the art of cutting intricate designs on paper, researchers were able to produce nanostructures out of graphene sheets just an atom thick
In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers led by Paul McEuen used kirigami on graphene instead of paper, carving out a design on the ultra-thin material. Graphene is made up of atom-thick sheets of carbon hexagonally bonded. The graphene sheets in the study were 10-microns thick. For reference, a strand of human hair is as thick as around 70 microns.
Nanoscale graphene is sticky so the researchers suspended the sheets in water, adding surfactants to make the material slippery. To facilitate handling of the graphene sheets, the researchers also created handles out of gold, giving them tabs at the ends of the sheets to hold on to.
Before the researchers could take advantage of kirigami, they first studied numerous designs on fabric and paper to come up with a way to use them on graphene. Once they had decided on a design, they then used a laser cutter to practice on paper models. When everything was ready, the researchers transferred their chosen design on graphene.
Melina Blees, the first author for the study, explained that exploring designs and testing them out on paper was important to give the researchers an idea of how kirigami can be applied on graphene to create a nanoscale spring that can measure forces in cells or interact with them. With this, the study opened up opportunities of using flexible, nanoscale devices that can be implanted in the brain or around cells.
Graphene also bends well with a simple hinge design, creating possibilities that the material may be used in foldable nanoscale devices and machines.
Blees also shared gaining an intuitive grasp of the properties of graphene, adding that it's not everyday that scientists develop an understanding of a nanoscale material similar to how an artist would.
"It's one thing to read about how strong graphene is; it's another thing entirely to crumple it up and watch it recover," she said.
Other authors for the study include: David Muller, Bryce Kobrin, Joshua Kevek, Alexander Ruyack, Pinshane Huang, Kathryn McGill, Samantha Roberts, Peter Rose and Arthur Barnard.