Queen's University researchers have discovered a simple, cost-effective method for making new molecular materials similar to graphene, but with additional properties.
Ultra-thin and ultra-strong, with an astonishing array of potential uses, graphene-based materials are highly sought-after by industries worldwide because of their exceptional electronic, mechanical, thermal and opto-electric properties.
Graphene's unusual properties derive from its structure, a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, with the atoms arranged in honeycomb lattices. Creating this ultra-thin honeycomb sheet is both tedious and difficult, and previous attempts have focused on isolating graphene from solid materials such as carbon fibre or graphite.
Dr. Suning Wang and her team in the Department of Chemistry have created a simpler, greener "bottom-up" method that replaces some of the carbon atoms with boron and nitrogen. This enables them to "grow" graphene-like honeycomb lattices from precursor chemical compounds, simply by exposing the compounds to light. Moreover, unlike graphene, the products can be highly fluorescent.
The discovery has been demonstrated by the transformation of a non-fluorescent precursor into a graphene-like fluorescent material. The researchers mixed a non-fluorescent compound in a polymer film. The film was covered up in certain areas to create a pattern. The uncovered areas, when exposed to light, glowed a bright green hue, evidence that the original, non-fluorescing material had been converted into a fluorescent material. The material could potentially be used in luminescent probes, sensors, electroluminescent devices, or for hydrogen storage.
"Dr. Wang's elegant process creates a powerful tool to make B,N-doped graphene-based materials. These materials could potentially be used in a vast range of applications in the electronic, semiconductor, display, fuel cell, solar cell, sensing and imaging industries, to name just a few," says Dr. Lucy Su, Commercial Development Manager at PARTEQ Innovations, which filed for patent protection on the technology.
Dr. Wang is an award-winning researcher specializing in organoboron chemistry and luminescent materials. Her team's discovery was ranked as "highly important" by the prominent international journal Angewandte Chemie, where their research paper was recently published.
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