Graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, is stretchy and more resilient than rubber, stronger than steel and conducts electricity better than copper. But enlisting the material for real-world scenarios, like in electronic devices, cars or architectural structures, has been almost impossible. The material is super thin - exactly one atom thin - and so far, too delicate to be used to its fullest potential.
Now a team of researchers at MIT have developed a computer model that simulates fusing flakes of graphene into three-dimensional configurations. They discovered that if they shaped the two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms into a particular three-dimensional, porous form, the resulting structure would be ten times the strength of steel with just five percent of its density.
"What we've done is to realize the wish of translating these 2D materials into three-dimensional structures," Markus Buehler, the head of MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said in a press statement.
It turns out that other researchers had experimented with different kinds of three-dimensional shapes, but the structures always fell short in strength tests.
Buehler and his team decided to go down to the level of the atom. The computer model they made not only simulates the chemical synthesis that occurs when fusing graphene flakes together, but also allows the researchers to test the mechanical properties of the resulting shape.
After running several simulations, they found the ideal structure that exhibited the most strength: It resembles a wavy-holed block of Swiss cheese or maybe a sponge designed by Antoni Gaudi.
WATCH VIDEO: Super Thin Graphene Means Super Power