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A chemical process is used to attach nanomaterials on graphene without changing the properties and the arrangement of the carbon atoms in graphene. (Credit: University of Illinois)

Scientists have discovered a new chemical method that enables graphene to be incorporated into a wide range of applications while maintaining its ultrafast electronics. Graphene, a lightweight, thin, flexible material, can be used to enhance the strength and speed of various medical processes, as well as many others.

It is comprised of a single layer of carbon atoms bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons. Isolated for the first time 15 years ago by a physics professor at the University of Manchester in England, it is so thin that it is considered two-dimensional and thought to be the strongest material on the planet.

The researchers used a chemical process to attach nanomaterials on graphene without changing the properties and the arrangement of the carbon atoms in graphene. By doing so, they retained graphene’s electron-mobility, which is essential in high-speed electronics. The addition of the plasmonic silver nanoparticles to graphene also increased the material’s ability to boost the efficiency of graphene-based solar cells by 11-fold.

Instead of adding molecules to the individual carbon atoms of graphene, the new method adds metal atoms, such as chromium or molybdenum, to the six atoms of a benzoid ring. Unlike carbon-centered bonds, this bond is delocalized, which keeps the carbon atoms’ arrangement undistorted and planar, so that the graphene retains its unique properties of electrical conduction.

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