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Science snapshots from Berkeley Lab

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Monday, December 2, 2019
A Matchmaker for Microbiomes

Microbiomes play essential roles in the natural processes that keep the planet and our bodies healthy, so it's not surprising that scientists' investigations into these diverse microbial communities are leading to advances in medicine, sustainable agriculture, cheap water purification methods, and environmental cleanup technology, just to name a few. However, trying to determine which microbes contribute to an important geochemical or physiological reaction is both incredibly challenging and slow-going, because the task involves analyzing enormous datasets of genetic and metabolic information to match the compounds mediating a process to the microbes that produced them.

But now, researchers have devised a new way to sort through the information overload.

Writing in Nature Methods, a team led by UC San Diego describes a neural network-based approach called microbe-metabolite vectors (mmvec), which uses probabilities to identify the most likely relationship of co-occurring microbes and metabolites. The team demonstrates how mmvec can outperform traditional correlation-based approaches by applying mmvec to datasets from two well-studied microbiomes types - those found in desert soils and cystic fibrosis patients' lungs - and gives a taste of how the approach could be used in the future by revealing relationships between microbially-produced metabolites and inflammatory bowel disease.

"Previous statistical tools used to estimate microbe-metabolite correlations performed comparably to random chance," said Marc Van Goethem, a postdoctoral researcher who is one of three study authors from Berkeley Lab. "Their poor performance led to the detection of spurious relationships and missed many true relationships. Mmvec is a powerful new tool that accurately links metabolite and microbial abundances to solve this problem. There could be wide-ranging applications from clinical trials to environmental engineering. Ultimately, mmvec will allow us to begin moving away from simple pattern recognition towards unravelling mechanisms."

When Solids and Liquids Meet: In Nanoscale Detail

How a liquid interacts with the surface of a solid is important in batteries and fuel cells, chemical production, corrosion phenomena, and many biological processes.

To better understand this solid-liquid interface, researchers at Berkeley Lab developed a platform to explore these interactions under real conditions ("in situ") at the nanoscale using a technique that combines infrared light with an atomic force microscopy (AFM) probe. The results were published in the journal Nano Letters.

The team explored the interaction of graphene with several liquids, including water and a common battery electrolyte fluid. Graphene is an atomically thin form of carbon. Its single-layer atomic structure gives the material some unique properties, including incredible mechanical strength and high electrical conductivity.

Researchers used a beam of infrared light produced at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source and they focused it at the tip of an AFM probe that scanned across a section of graphene in contact with the liquids. The infrared technique provides a nondestructive way to explore the active nanoscale chemistry of the solid-liquid interface.

By measuring the infrared light scattered from the probe's tip, researchers collected details about the chemical compounds and the concentration of charged particles along the solid-liquid interface. The same technique, which revealed hidden features at this interface that were not seen using conventional methods, can be used to explore a range of materials and liquids.

Researchers from the Lab's Materials Sciences Division, Molecular Foundry, and Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division participated in the study. The Molecular Foundry and Advanced Light Source are DOE Office of Science user facilities.

Underwater telecom cables make superb seismic network

Fiber-optic cables that constitute a global undersea telecommunications network could one day help scientists study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures hidden deep beneath the ocean surface.

In a recent paper in the journal Science, researchers UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and Rice University describe an experiment that turned 20 kilometers of undersea fiber-optic cable into the equivalent of 10,000 seismic stations along the ocean floor. During their four-day experiment in Monterey Bay, they recorded a 3.5 magnitude quake and seismic scattering from underwater fault zones.

Their technique, which they had previously tested with fiber-optic cables on land, could provide much-needed data on quakes that occur under the sea, where few seismic stations exist, leaving 70% of Earth's surface without earthquake detectors.

"This is really a study on the frontier of seismology, the first time anyone has used offshore fiber-optic cables for looking at these types of oceanographic signals or for imaging fault structures," said Jonathan Ajo-Franklin, a geophysics professor at Rice University in Houston and a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab. "One of the blank spots in the seismographic network worldwide is in the oceans."

Tags:  atomic force microscopy  Berkeley Lab  disease  fuel cells  Graphene  Healthcare  Jonathan Ajo-Franklin  journal Science  Marc Van Goethem  microbiomes  Molecular Foundry  Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute  Nano Letters  nanoscale  Rice University  UC San Diego 

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Laser-induced graphene composites are eminently wearable

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Monday, June 24, 2019
Graphene has a unique combination of properties that is ideal for next-generation electronics, including mechanical flexibility, high electrical conductivity, and chemical stability. The burgeoning field of wearable electronics – 'smart' fabrics with invisibly integrated energy harvesting, energy storage, electronics and sensor systems – benefits from graphene in numerous ways. Graphene materials, be they pristine or composites, will lead to smaller high-capacity and fast-charging supercapacitors, completely flexible and even rollable electronics and energy-storage devices, and transparent batteries.

To realize the commercial potential of graphene, it is necessary to develop reliable, cost-effective and facile processes for the industry-scale fabrication of graphene-based devices.

One possible route is inkjet printing, already extensively demonstrated with conductive metal nanoparticle inks. Although liquid-phase graphene dispersions have been demonstrated, researchers are still struggling with sophisticated inkjet printing technologies that allow efficient and reliable mass production of high-quality graphene patterns for practical applications.

A novel solution comes from the team at Joseph Wang's Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego. Reporting their findings in Advanced Materials Technologies ("Laser-Induced Graphene Composites for Printed, Stretchable, and Wearable Electronics"), they demonstrate the synthesis of high-performance stretchable graphene ink using a facile, scalable, and low-cost laser induction method for the synthesis of the graphene component.

As a proof-of-concept, the researchers fabricated a stretchable micro-supercapacitor (S-MSC) demonstrating the highest capacitance reported for a graphene-based highly stretchable MSC to date. This also is the first example of using laser-induced graphene in the form for a powder preparation of graphene-based inks and subsequently for use in screen-printing of S-MSC.

Back in 2014, researchers at Rice University created flexible, patterned sheets of multilayer graphene from a cheap polymer by burning it with a computer-controlled laser, a technique they called laser-induced graphene (LIG). This high-yield and low-cost graphene synthesis process works in air at room temperature and eliminates the need for hot furnaces and controlled environments, and it makes graphene that is suitable for electronics or energy storage.

"LIG can be prepared from a few polymeric substances, such as Kapton polyimide and polyetherimide, as well as various sustainable biomasses, including wood, lignin, cloth, paper, or hydrothermal carbons," Farshad Tehrani, the paper's first author. "On the other hand, LIG has considerably enhanced dispersion in typical solvent and binders due to its inherently abundant defects and surface functional groups."

He points out that the team's novel method, while maintaining the distinct advantages of the direct-written LIG, unlocks untapped potentials of the LIG material in several areas:

Mechanical stretchability: In this study, the inherently brittle and mechanically fragile LIG electrodes are turned into a mechanically robust, highly stretchable electrodes, with the new ink attractive for diverse wearable electronic devices.

Enhanced electrochemical performance: The areal capacitance of the team's S-MSC has far surpassed that of direct-written laser LIG and has produced the highest areal capacitance reported for highly stretchable supercapacitors.

Customized composite formulations: The basic ink formulation is compatible with a wide range of compositions using the LIG as an attractive conductive filler.

Substrate versatility: Unlike direct-laser writing, which is limited to polymeric substrates and several biomasses, the LIG ink can be printed on almost any stretchable and non stretchable substrate, such as polymeric substrates, fabrics, or textiles.

"During the development of our new supercapacitor, we discovered a specific synergic effect between polymeric binders poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate (PEDOT:PSS) mixed with Polyurethane (PU), PEDOT:PSS-PU and graphene sheets in producing exceptional electromechanical performances," adds Fernando Soto, a co-author of the paper. "We realized that when both sides of the graphene sheets are thoroughly covered with the conductive/elastic PEDOT:PSS/PU polymer, it results in a robust composite that withstands severe shear stresses during stretching."

"Not only that, but it also maintains above 85% of its electrochemical performance such as its charge storing capacitance properties, composite conductivity and electrochemical stability at high charge-discharge cycles," he adds.

In developing wearable electronic devices, researchers need to deal with a range of issues where stretchability and mechanical performance of the device is as important as its electronic properties such as conductivity, charge storage properties and, generally, its high electrochemical performance.

Rather than focusing on one of these specific problems, the team's work addresses a series of challenges that include high mechanical and electrochemical performance while keeping the costs at their lowest possible point for realistic commercialization scenarios.

"From the design to the implementation stages of our study, the primary focus has been devoted to scalability, versatility and cost efficiency of a high performance platform that can potentially spark further innovations using nanocomposite materials in the field of wearable electronics," notes Tehrani.

The next stages of the team's work in this area of wearable applications will see the integration of these high-performance S-MSCs with batteries and energy harvesting systems such as biofuel cells, triboelectrics, and piezoelectrics.

Tags:  Farshad Tehrani  Graphene  Joseph Wang  nanocomposites  nanoelectronics  Sensors  UC San Diego 

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