Graphene is one of the the world’s thinnest yet strongest and most pliable materials ever created.
This simple sheet lattice of carbon atoms has incredible heat and energy conducting properties, giving it the potential to revolutionise everything from medicine to electrical engineering and physics. Its applications are seemingly endless.
Now, new research suggests an even more pliable potential: It can fold itself up into different shapes like origami and walk around on its own, researchers report in the journal Science Advances.
Self-folding structures are quickly becoming a biomedical scientists’ dream. They’re easily programmed to remotely fold and unfold by themselves; and are being touted for their potential in modern applications such as remotely controlled robotics, tissue engineering, and artificial muscles.
Researchers from Donghua University in Shanghai reported Nov. 6 that they have developed an “instant self-folding graphene paper” that can be remotely manipulated to bend, move, and even walk around a corner by zapping it with light or heat.
The material is flexible and mechanically robust, the researchers report. It also has some advantages over other active materials, such as polymer gels, which are limited by the number of shapes they can make, low stability, and the need for wiring and circuit connections which don’t allow remote controlling.
This isn’t the first time scientists have folded graphene into bendy and springy shapes. Paul McEuen, a physicist at Cornell University, has folded graphene sheets into different shapes and cut it in strategic places to make flexible, foldable 3D “Kirigami” structures.
Such constructions could fashion tiny molecular springs that could physically stretch open condensed DNA molecules to read their code or find abnormalities within a strand; or they can be used to create bits of material that can measure electricity pulsing through brain cells. McEuen also envisions a future in which mini graphene boxes could shuttle medicine to specific parts of the body, though this is still speculation.
Graphene is made by shaving graphite — a crystalline structure composed of many layers of carbon atoms — until only one atom-thick layer remains.
Flexible computer screens, long-living batteries, and lightning fast microcomputers are just a few examples of the countless potential applications of graphene. But scientists are still unsure how or when graphene can be successfully used in practical applications.
Still, graphene origami can be added to the list as an exciting new exercise in creatively manipulating material structures to advance medicine and science in the future.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.