Science

Scientists copy structure of cork to produce 3D blocks of graphene

Scientists copy structure of c...
The internal structure of cork (above) has inspired the creation of three-dimensional graphene blocks (Photo: Shutterstock)
The internal structure of cork (above) has inspired the creation of three-dimensional graphene blocks (Photo: Shutterstock)
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The internal structure of cork (above) has inspired the creation of three-dimensional graphene blocks (Photo: Shutterstock)
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The internal structure of cork (above) has inspired the creation of three-dimensional graphene blocks (Photo: Shutterstock)
A scanning electron microscope image of the cork-like 3D graphene (Image: Ling Qiu, Monash University)
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A scanning electron microscope image of the cork-like 3D graphene (Image: Ling Qiu, Monash University)

Imagine how limiting it would be if steel, wood or plastic only existed in the form of thin sheets. Well, that’s been the case so far when it comes to graphene. While its incredible strength and high conductivity make it very useful in things like semiconductors, batteries and solar cells, there’s no doubt that it would be even more useful if it could be produced in three-dimensional blocks. Scientists at Australia’s Monash University have now managed to do just that – by copying the structure of cork.

Graphene itself takes the form of a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms linked in a hexagonal pattern. According to lead researcher Prof. Dan Li, 3D structures assembled from those one-dimensional sheets have tended to be brittle. Cork, on the other hand, is a three-dimensional material that’s known for both its strength and elasticity. Li’s team observed that while the fibers in cork cell walls are closely-packed for maximum strength, the individual cells are linked in a honeycomb structure, which allows the material to stretch and contract.

Employing a process known as freeze casting, the scientists were able to replicate those qualities in 3D blocks made of chemically-modified graphene. Not only were those blocks very electrically-conductive, but they were also lighter than air, could support 50,000 times their own weight, and were elastic to the point of being able to recover from over 80 percent deformation.

A scanning electron microscope image of the cork-like 3D graphene (Image: Ling Qiu, Monash University)
A scanning electron microscope image of the cork-like 3D graphene (Image: Ling Qiu, Monash University)

“We've been able to effectively preserve the extraordinary qualities of graphene in an elastic 3D form, which paves the way for investigations of new uses of graphene – from aerospace to tissue engineering,” said Li.

A paper on the research was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Monash University

9 comments
Mirmillion
Looks like this product will be thermally insulating as well.
Larry Hooten
Lighter than air? Incredibly strong? I wonder if you could build a self-installing space elevator out of that?
notarichman
could use it for clothing as well? how about using it for electrical conductor in jets or other places where heat variation causes stretching? add a waterproof surface and use it for raincoats? if it could be sprayed on surfaces; then it would make a faraday shield or lightning rod protection for buildings?? building material replacement for wood? earthquake resistant buidling material -- just spray coat it to waterproof it?
Stephanie Pyke
Here's the REAL next use. real cork outer shell, graphene inner core with microchips inside.--> Is your bottled wine ready to come out of the cellar? There is an app for that. The new cork would log the temperature of the wine, measure the alcohol content, test the chemical makeup of the wine, track its location, log it's age from the winery using atomic time, and based on the data it recieves, give suggestions to the buyer the flavors that it may have, and the ideal parings for the specific bottle. It also communicates with chips in the corks of bottles next to it so all you have to do is take a picture of the bottle with your device, and the app will not only tell you more about the bottle you are looking at, but it will compare it to bottles on the shelf next to it and target advertisements about the brands. It would be awesome.
Tony Smale
Stephanie : Might be more cost effective to just pick a random value 'ready' or 'not' and go with it.
http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/18/the-days-of-wine-and-mouses/
If the cork tells you the wine is perfect, you'll most likely agree.
Kwazai
So when does the solar stirling 'tree' style water pump get marketed(patented?). hexagons. so are octagons coming next? The other articles referenced show a myriad of possibilities with the right 'doping' or substrate. (pn and npn junctions (larger/smaller? like most electronics. wonder the wattage...)
the curved contact lcd screen looks like a natural if the added doping were flexible (3 sided linked graphene?) like a water molecule is ionic/covalent in a hexacovalent world...
the crumpled ball being a precursor to 'forging' lightweight parts.
Inconel look out. Is the cork strong enough for wings (or balloons...)
my own favorite would probably be a net-zero greenhouse with all the electronic doodads so it runs itself on the way to mars...LMAO and yes we will need to have some 'smart' corks( and a little eevoo....).
Talk about sequestering carbon. the future gets better....
Gavin Roe
the material could be used for the skin of aircraft, lighter, stronger, faster
kozrak
your comment: "were also lighter than air, could support 50,000 times their own weight," means they weigh nothing and 50,000 times nothing is nothing so not a great item
William Carr
@kozrak: "lighter than air" doesn't mean "weighs nothing".
The stuff is lighter than air, but air weighs something.
Not much, about 1.2 oz per cubic foot.
So a cubic foot of this stuff could support a weight of 34.7 ounces sitting on top of it without being crushed.
It's super-light, probably very insulative, and if you compare it to standard fiberglas batting, is probably stiffer.
A cubic foot of the "pink stuff" would flatten if you put two pounds on it. And then it's not such a great insulator anymore.
One excellent way of dealing with the carbon overload problem is to make it into products using solar energy and build them into houses.