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Strange Bedfellows: Graphene and Gold
April 1, 2015   
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A new material based on an unusual combination of graphene and gold may open new vistas for the development of optical technology. Polish researchers say such a material can be used to produce ultra-fast optical computers, for example. Other potential applications include highly sensitive biological sensors.

A new material based on an unusual combination of graphene and gold may open new vistas for the development of optical technology. Polish researchers say such a material can be used to produce ultra-fast optical computers, for example. Other potential applications include highly sensitive biological sensors.
Until now, combining graphene with gold was a difficult and dangerous process. Polish researchers have come up with an idea of using bacteria to combine these two materials.

A team led by Wiktor Lewandowski, Ph.D., from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Warsaw, supported by biologist Łukasz Drewniak, Ph.D., from the same university, is working on such a material. The team is also being helped by Prof. Carsten Rockstuhl from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. The project has been subsidized to the tune of zl.100,000 by the Foundation for Polish Science under its Inter program.

According to the researchers, the new material can find various applications such as for manufacturing highly sensitive biological sensors. However, the research team is focusing on optical technology, needed to develop ultra-fast optical computers and for optical data transmission.

Lewandowski wants the new method for using bacteria to produce graphene enriched with gold on a laboratory scale to be ready by the end of 2015. He says, however, that practical application of the results of such research is a matter of the future. In the first stage of their work, the researchers are using a material called graphene oxide. This is a flat, single-layer structure consisting of carbon atoms. It differs from ordinary graphene in that its surface contains oxygen atoms that need to be removed. Until now, researchers had problems performing such an operation.

“Previously, hazardous or carcinogenic chemical substances were often used for this purpose,” says Lewandowski. “What we want to do is use bacteria that will remove oxygen atoms from graphene oxide and make it possible to combine it with particles of gold. The bacteria are expected to do the hard work for us.”

During the process of removing oxygen atoms, tiny holes may form on the surface of the material. This makes the material unfit for electronic uses, unlike with ordinary graphene. On the other hand, such a material may be enriched by substances such as organic or non-organic molecules, which opens up a range of new possibilities for researchers.

Lewandowski says his team wants to apply for EU grants in the future. The money will make it possible to not only carry out thorough research, but also put its results to practical use.

Graphene is a new wonder material that could have myriad hi-tech applications and may even replace silicon in the electronic devices of the future. Transparent, flexible and durable, graphene offers a huge range of potential applications in industries including aeronautics and the automotive industry, in addition to electronics, energy generation and storage, medicine, materials engineering, and environmental protection.

Olga Majewska
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