As scientists battle to bend graphene to their will in the high-profile realm of electronic components, researchers working on more straightforward applications of this two-dimensional, atom-thin sheet of carbon are also making some interesting discoveries.
Results are counterintuitive because graphite — the form of carbon from which graphene originally derived — increases metallic corrosion when in contact with metals
For instance, a coating of graphene has been shown to increase copper’s resistance to corrosion by 100 times. To put this discovery into context, study co-author Dr Mainak Majumder explains: "At this point we are almost 100 times better than untreated copper. Other people are maybe five or six times better, so it's a pretty big jump."
The team used standard chemical vapour deposition to coat their research materials with the ultra-thin film of graphene. In their paper, they describe the results as "counterintuitive", because graphite — the form of carbon from which graphene was originally derived — increases metallic corrosion when in contact with metals.
Discovery's immediate importance
Experimentalist Dr Parama Banerjee, who described graphene as a "magic material", said the discovery would be of immediate importance to coastal communities, where the effects of salt water are well known.
"In nations like Australia, where we are surrounded by ocean, it is particularly significant that such an atomically thin coating can provide protection in that environment," Dr Banerjee said.
The researchers have so far only investigated the effect of coating copper, but are now expanding their range and looking at other metals too. The applications would be wide-ranging: from ships, to the food industry and even electronics — anywhere metals are at risk of corrosion.
The research, carried out at Monash University in Australia and Rice University in the USA, is published in the September edition of the journal Carbon.