Graphene: Scientists figure out how to shatter the world's strongest material

November 30, 2010

In 2008, experiments at The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University established pure graphene, a single layer of graphite only one atom thick, as the strongest material known to mankind. This raised a question for Chris Marianetti, Assistant Professor in Columbia Engineering's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics: how and why does graphene break?

Using and supercomputers, Marianetti has revealed the mechanisms of mechanical failure of pure graphene under tensile stress. In a paper recently accepted for publication in the journal , he shows that, when graphene is subject to strain equal in all directions, it morphs into a new structure which is mechanically unstable.

Marianetti says this failure mechanism is a novel soft-mode phonon instability. A phonon is a collective vibrational mode of atoms within a crystal, similar to a wave in a liquid. The fact that a phonon becomes "soft" under tensile strain means that the system can lower its energy by distorting the atoms along the vibrational mode and transitioning to a new crystalline arrangement. Under sufficient strain, graphene develops a particular soft-mode that causes the honeycomb arrangement of to be driven towards isolated hexagonal rings. This new crystal is structurally weaker, resulting in the mechanical failure of the graphene sheet.

"This is exciting on many different levels," Marianetti notes. "Soft modes were first recognized in the 1960s in the context of ferroelectric phase transitions, but they have never been directly linked to fracture. Typically, defects in a material will always cause failure to happen prematurely, but the pristine nature of graphene allows one to test our prediction. We have already outlined some interesting new experiments to directly observe our of the soft mode."

Marianetti added that this is the first time a soft optical phonon has ever been linked to mechanical failure and that therefore it is likely that this novel failure mechanism is not exclusive to graphene but may be prevalent in other very thin materials. "With nanotechnology becoming increasingly ubiquitous, understanding the nature of mechanical behavior in low dimensional systems such as graphene is of great importance. We think strain may be a means to engineer the properties of , and therefore understanding its limits is critical." The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Marianetti's research interests lie in the use of classical and quantum mechanics to model the behavior of materials at the atomic scale. In particular, he is focused on applying these techniques to materials with potential for energy storage and conversion. Current applications in his research program range from nuclear materials such as plutonium to rechargeable battery materials such as cobalt oxides.

Explore further: Seeing Moire in Graphene

Related Stories

Seeing Moire in Graphene

April 27, 2010

( -- Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology have demonstrated that atomic scale moiré patterns, an interference pattern that appears when ...

Producing graphene layers using crystallization

March 2, 2010

( -- Ever since it's relatively recent discovery, graphene has generated a great deal of interest. Graphene is extracted from graphite in many cases, and consists of a sheet of carbon atoms bound together in a ...

UH professor taking next step with graphene research

October 19, 2010

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics went to the two scientists who first isolated graphene, one-atom-thick crystals of graphite. Now, a researcher with the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering is trying to develop ...

Recommended for you

Particles self-assemble into Archimedean tilings

December 8, 2016

(—For the first time, researchers have simulated particles that can spontaneously self-assemble into networks that form geometrical arrangements called Archimedean tilings. The key to realizing these structures ...

Nano-calligraphy on graphene

December 8, 2016

Scientists at The University of Manchester and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have demonstrated a method to chemically modify small regions of graphene with high precision, leading to extreme miniaturisation of chemical ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2010
Sounds ALOT like well known 'over-unity' techniques to me. This, for example, what Keeley did. Many others have done similar things. On the individual molecular level, this is not entirely unlike Alchemy. Which is ---- about 6000+ years older than 'science'. It worked (and works) without needing validation by modern science.

So, reality test time..... is something real.... only when science says it is?

Think, now.
5 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2010
On the individual molecular level, this is not entirely unlike Alchemy. Which is ---- about 6000+ years older than 'science'.

If you're going to talk about alchemy and put science in quotes then what are you even doing on this site?

Think, now.

You first...
1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2010
Seriously, why are there so many lunatics in the world?
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
nobody tell Sheldon

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.