A material cannot get any thinner. Graphene consists of just one layer of carbon atoms. However, that's not the only reason materials scientists are interested in this material: they're primarily fascinated by its extraordinary properties. Linjie Zhi and his Partner Group at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research are using chemistry to optimize graphene for various applications.
Graphene, a gossamer-thin layer of carbon with a structure reminiscent of chicken wire, is the jack of all trades of materials research. It's just one atomic layer thick, in the laboratory is 200 times as strong as steel, conducts electricity 100 times better than silicon, is as flexible as a plastic, and in individual layers is almost as transparent as glass. Physicists and materials scientists are excited. But scientists from other disciplines are showing little interest.
Quite wrong, believes Linjie Zhi: "So far, scientific research has almost exclusively concentrated on the physical properties of graphene, but its chemical behavior is at least as exciting", says the chemist. Zhi, who, at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing, heads the 'Carbon-rich Nanomaterials' Partner Group of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz is using the material's chemistry to optimize its properties for specific applications.