Scientists have long tried to create new allotropes (forms) of carbon because of their versatility and industrial utility. But so far there has been only limited success. That’s going to change now. As a major breakthrough, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, have successfully synthesized the long-supposed next-generation wonder material graphite. Graphene, an allotrope of carbon, is similar to graphene, which is highly valued by the industry. In fact, the research on graphene was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. However, scientists have so far been able to create only a few fragments, despite decades of work and theory.
Carbon allotropes such as graphene and fullerene are made using traditional chemical methods. But these methods do not allow synthesis of various forms of carbon in large capacity, as is necessary for graphite. Wei Zhang, a chemistry professor at CU Boulder, then decided to give it a try. Zhang studies reversible chemistry that allows bonds to self-correct, creating new ordered structures.
Using a process called alkyne metathesis, as well as thermodynamics and kinetic control, the researchers were able to successfully create a material that could match graphene’s conductivity, but with control. “There’s a pretty big difference (between graphene and graphene), but in a good way,” Zhang says. “This could be the next generation of a wonder material. That’s why people are very excited.”
Scientists believe the groundbreaking research would open up new avenues for research into electronics, optics and semiconductor materials. The researchers have published their findings in the journal Nature Synthesis.
“The whole public, the whole field, is really excited that this long-standing problem, or this imaginary material, is finally being realized,” Yiming Hu, the paper’s lead author and a doctoral student in Zhang’s lab group, said in a statement from the University. The researchers now want to study this material in detail, including how to make it on a large scale.
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