Wonder material graphene makes engineering headlines yet again as researchers find a new way to create strong flexible fibers from the substance.
In collaboration with the Shinsu University in Japan, researchers at Penn State have developed a simple and scalable method for producing graphene oxide fibers that are not only strong but elastic as well.
Starting with nothing more than graphite, researchers were able to chemically exfoliate the commonplace material and refine graphite to a point where it transformed into graphene flakes. Once in a flake form the graphene was mixed with a touch of water in a centrifuge to create graphene slurry. The slurry was then used to create a thin film of graphene oxide that was left to dry in a large sheet. Once dehydrated the film was sliced into narrow strips, completing its transformation from graphite to graphene oxide thread.
Through experimentation researchers found that their new fiber could be tied together and stretched without fear of fracturing, lending it some of the same qualities you would find in yarn. Given those properties researchers believe the new fiber could have potentially game changing applications.
"We found this graphene oxide fiber was very strong, much better than other carbon fibers. We believe that pockets of air inside the fiber keep it from being brittle," says Mauricio Terrones, professor at Penn State. "The importance is that we can do almost any material, and that could open up many avenues – it’s a lightweight material with multifunctional properties."
Seen as a potential replacement for Kevlar, graphene oxide wires that have been inoculated with copper or silver could also be used to create wearable sensors. Coupling the strength of Kevlar with a conductive fiber could lead to new uniforms or clothing that respond to human and environmental inputs, resist tears, and stop bullets.
Image Courtesy of Penn State