Giant Flakes Make Graphene Oxide Gel

Photo: Microscopic picture of graphene

Giant flakes of graphene oxide in water aggregate like a stack of pancakes, but infinitely thinner, and in the process gain characteristics that materials scientists may find delicious.

That much was already known. The new twist is that if the flakes – in this case, graphene oxide – are big enough and concentrated enough, they retain their alignment as they form a gel. That gel is a handy precursor for manufacturing metamaterials or fibres with unique mechanical and electronic properties.

"Graphene materials and fluid phases are a great research area," said Professor Matteo Pasquali of Rice University. "From the fundamental point of view, fluid phases comprising flakes are relatively unexplored, and certainly so when the flakes have important electronic properties.

"From the application standpoint, graphene and graphene oxide can be important building blocks in such areas as flexible electronics and conductive and high-strength materials, and can serve as templates for ordering plasmonic structures," he said.

By "giant," the researchers referred to irregular flakes of graphene oxide up to 10,000 times as wide as they are high. That's still impossibly small: on average, roughly 12 microns wide and less than a nanometre high. Previous studies showed smaller bits of pristine graphene suspended in acid would form a liquid crystal and that graphene oxide would do likewise in other solutions, including water.

This time the team discovered that if the flakes are big enough and concentrated enough, the solution becomes semisolid. When they constrained the gel to a thin pipette and evaporated some of the water, the graphene oxide flakes got closer to each other and stacked up spontaneously, although imperfectly.

Testing the possibilities, the researchers mixed gold micro triangles and glass micro rods into the solution, and found both were effectively forced to line up with the pan caking flakes. Their inclusion also helped the team get visual confirmation of the flakes' orientation.

The process offers the possibility of the large-scale ordering and alignment of such plasmonic particles as gold, silver and palladium nano rods, important components in optoelectronic devices and metamaterials, they report.; Source: Rice University