To date it has proved very difficult to convert the promises of the miracle material graphene into practical applications. Amedeo Bellunato, Ph.D. candidate at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry, has developed a method of cutting graphene into smaller fragments using a diamond knife. He can then construct nanostructures from the fragments. Ph.D. defence 11 December.
Graphene is a honeycomb structure of carbon atoms just a single atom thick. After its discovery in 2004, it seemed to be the ideal basic material for nanotechnology applications: it is super strong and it is an exceptionally good conductor of both heat and electricity. In 2013 the EU launched the Graphene Flagship a research programme with a budget of a billion euros to develop such applications as more efficient solar cells, LEDs, batteries and all kinds of sensors.
However, in his dissertation, Bellunato states that making such nanostructures is still an extremely complex production process that does not lend itself well to serial production. Also, it has proven almost impossible to selectively functionalize graphene chemically, i.e. to connect other chemical elements, such as oxygen or nitrogen atoms, to the edges of a graphene nanostructure. It is important to be able to do this in order to make graphene into a versatile nanomaterial with multiple applications.