A stretchy miracle material capable of being used for developing greatly resistant smart devices and scratch-proof paint for cars has been discovered by a group of Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast.
Queen's University Belfast research could mean scratch proof paint for cars. (Credit: Queen's University Belfast)
An international team of Researchers, headed by Dr Elton Santos from the University’s School of Mathematics and Physics, have detected superlubricity in a few layers of graphene – a concept according to which friction vanishes or very nearly vanishes. The experts also discovered that a few layers of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) are as robust as diamond but are lighter and cheaper and more flexible.
The results, which have been presented in Nature Communications, disclose that the h-BN layers produce the strongest thin insulator available worldwide and the unique qualities of the material are capable of being employed for producing flexible and almost unbreakable smart devices, and also scratch-proof paint for cars.
We have all at some point in life stepped on a slippery surface where we have to steady our balance so that we don’t fall. In most cases, liquid such as water or oil is the cause and this slippery state is what we describe as superlubricity - there is basically no friction on a surface.
Dr Elton Santos The School of Mathematics and Physics, Queen's University Belfast
“In graphene, this superlubricity state comes from atomic orbitals that compose carbon atoms. Normally, to generate friction some orbitals must overlap and heat, or some energy, must be released. Surprisingly, our research shows that graphene does not require this process, it just spontaneously slides on top of other layers but does not release heat. This means that graphene, which is 300 times stronger than steel, becomes mechanically weaker and can easily break.” Added Dr Santos.
The research findings around the h-BN layers demonstrate that its mechanical properties are similar to diamond but are more flexible and lighter and much cheaper. It can effortlessly be incorporated in small electronic circuits or to reinforce structures as it is more strong against mechanical stress or shocks.
Dr Santos commented,
“It has been a privilege to work with global researchers to predict and measure multilayer graphene and h-BN in an unprecedented way. It is nearly impossible at present to make major breakthroughs in science without working in collaboration. At Queen’s University we have advanced our knowledge of these layered materials and have made some major discoveries, which could help to tackle many global challenges within our society.
“Our key finding is that bilayer graphene develops a super-lubricity state where no heating is generated as the layers slide on top of each other. Just a few materials have these features and it looks like graphene has joined this exclusive club. During this process, we also discovered that h-BN, a common lubricant used in several automotive and industrial applications, developed a mechanical strength in a few layers. These are as strong as diamond, measured in terms of a quantity called Young modulus. This is a truly ground-breaking finding as even an insulator with thin layers could not keep its Young modulus at such high magnitudes.
“There are several possibilities for application of our discoveries which could have a positive impact in the real world. We are looking at a timeline of around five to ten years to transform the discoveries into real products but we could see benefits such as material reinforcement to mixture in solutions such as ink for paint, which would give further strength against corrosion and could potentially mean scratch-proof cars in future.
“This stretchy material could also be used in electronic devices and motor engines to make friction very low, as no heat is released.”
In electronics, several companies are currently integrating h-BN in prototypes together with graphene for the creation of smart-devices such as iPads and Androids with unique features. These companies are also incorporating h-BN with polymers to give additional strength for novel mechanical applications such as aerospace, sports and civil engineering.
Dr Elton Santos The School of Mathematics and Physics, Queen's University Belfas t
“We are currently looking for other combinations of 2D crystals which could be used for similar applications. So far, graphene seems the best candidate but there is still much to be explored within the library of layered materials. The future is bright for 2D materials because of the development, progress and research currently being performed worldwide.” Dr Santos added.
The results have recently been published in the globally leading nanoscience journal Nature Communications and were discovered by a global collaboration of researchers including: Australia, Deakin University (Dr. Luhua Li, Professor Chen); United States, University of Texas (Professor Qian); Korea, Unist (Professor Ruoff); Japan, Nims (Professor Watanabe); China, Northwestern Polytechnical University (Dr. Zhang), Wenzhou University (Dr. Yang); and Queen’s University Belfast (Dr. Santos and Declan Scullion).