Graphine Oxide To Water: I Love You, But You Repulse Me

Thanks to assistant professor Jiaxing Huang and his intrepid band of researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, yet another interesting property of Graphene Oxide – precursor to the hot and sexy “thinnest compound on earth”, Graphene – has been discovered. In short, it has a love/hate relationship with water.

Graphene Oxide has been known in and around the science community as a pretty cool guy for over century, with its most important property being the ability to change into suave and sophisticated Graphene, which is now being used to cool laptops, make flexible electronics, and generally be awesome.

But Huang and his compatriots have been more concerned with the sweet Steve Urkel precursor of the duo rather than the smooth Stephan Urkél, for those old enough to remember and care about a Family Matters reference.

They’ve done a number of interesting things with Graphene Oxide, including developing ways to turn it into Graphene using only a camera flash and making the substance fluoresce under a microscope. They already knew that Graphene Oxide was hydrophilic – it likes hanging around with water – but they suspected that under certain circumstances, it would become amphiphilic, or water-repelling, because of the way in which the Graphene Oxide molecule is structured.

Rolling fields of grapheneRolling fields of graphene 

As it turns out, they were right.

Graphene Oxide is produced in a thin sheet, and Huang and Co. discovered that if placed into carbonated water, the sheets would catch a ride on the rising bubbles to the water’s surface. In addition, the sheets were able to disperse oil droplets in water, further confirming their tumultuous affair with H20.

These two discoveries lend credence to the thought that Graphene Oxide can be used as a surfactant – think shampoo or soap – and used to clean things that are insoluble, such as carbon nanotubes. What raises the bar here from “merely cool” to “awesome” is that surfactants are often used to clean conductive materials, but must then be removed because they themselves impede that conduction.

Not Graphene Oxide, baby.

Once the material has been cleaned, it should theoretically be possible to apply heat and turn that useful and innocently charming Graphene Oxide into the conductive as-all-get-out Graphene, in effect making the conductor more conductive.

Not bad for an atom-thick compound with a water phobia.

Source: Northwestern University