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Graphene makes light work of aircraft design

11 June 2010

Research conducted at The University of Manchester has led to the finding that graphene has the potential to replace carbon fibres in high performance materials that are used to build aircraft.

Graphene is a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal pattern. As well as being an excellent conductor of electrons, with the potential to replace silicon, graphene is also one of the stiffest-known materials. This led researchers to investigate its behaviour and properties when mixed with other materials in composites.

A University of Manchester team, which included Dr Kostya Novoselov, put a single graphene sheet between two layers of polymer and used a technique called Raman spectroscopy to measure how the carbon bonds responded when the graphene was stretched. Raman spectroscopy works by shining a laser light onto a molecule and then collecting and analysing the wavelength and intensity of the resulting scattered light. The technique basically measures bond vibration between atoms. As researchers stretch the bond the vibration changes frequency.

Researchers were able to use Raman spectroscopy to look at the change of the vibrational energy of the bond and then worked out the change in bond length. From this information they calculated the improvement in stiffness the graphene gave to the polymer composite.

Professor Robert Young of the School of Materials, said: “We have found the theories developed for large materials still hold even when a material is just one atom thick. We can now start to use the decades of research into traditional carbon fibre composites to design the next generation of graphene-based materials.”

Dr Ian Kinloch, a researcher in the School of Materials, commented: “This relatively new material continues to amaze, and its incredible properties could be used to make structural, lightweight components for fuel efficient vehicles and aircraft.” The research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Society and published in the journal Advanced Materials.






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