Graphene has been recognized for its remarkable mechanical, thermal and electrical properties, and scientists say that this carbon lattice is the strongest and thinnest material ever.

Now, two researchers from Binghamton University have developed an environmentally-friendly method that could revolutionize graphene oxide and apply it in electronics, biomedical science and solar energy. Through the process, researchers will be able to have control over the electronic properties of the material at the nanolevel.

In a study issued online in the journal Carbon, Assistant Professor Jeffrey Mativetsky and Ph.D. student Austin Faucett used a scanning-force microscope to produce a local chemical reaction, and demonstrated that electrically-conducive structures as small as 4 nanometers can be transformed into sheets of graphene.

Researchers said that they didn't use the conventional methods for manipulating the properties of graphene oxide. Because their process is environmentally-safe, it can be used for the integration of the material into future technologies.

Mativetsky said that the material will be beneficial for developing lab-scale devices and for studying fundamental properties, and that the team's approach is the only method with the highest spatial control so far. This makes it possible to draw nanoscale features into insulating sheets.

For this study, the National Science Foundation has awarded Mativetsky with a grant of $300,000 that will last until August 2018. The research grant will focus more into the mechanisms, kinetics and limits of the voltage-induced process, or the properties of the graphene sheets.

"Eventually, this work may help lead to the practical integration of graphene oxide into low-cost and flexible electronics, solar cells and sensors," Mativetsky said.

According to the foundation, graphene is versatile because although its structure has oxygen atoms, it also includes some parts that do not have oxygen atoms attached to it. If these oxygen atoms were removed, the optical, chemical and electrical properties of graphene will be altered.

Other studies show that graphene can be used as a material for a wearable gas sensor. South Korean researchers have made use of graphene's two-dimensional surface area to create a washable and bendable electronic textile gas sensor that can detect harmful gases. The material has also been turned into a superconductor by coating it with lithium atoms.

In 2003, researchers examined the interesting properties of graphene. Apparently the material is 207 times stronger than steel. Graphene is mostly used in bulletproof jackets and it is also considered as a good conductor of heat and electricity.

Photo: CORE-Materials | Flickr

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