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Graphene: Chalk Up Another Unusual Behavior for this Remarkable Material

By Dick Weisinger

Carbon is considered the most important element to living things because of the many bonds and compounds that it can form. Carbon’s chemistry is what forms a huge body of work known as organic chemistry.

There’s a new chapter about carbon that is only recently being written. It is about a special form of carbon called graphene that is the thinnest material known, is incredibly strong, and which can be combined with other gases and metals to form very interesting compounds, often having superior properties. Sheets of the one-atom thick material have very strong and useful thermal and electrical properties. It is sometimes referred to as ‘black gold’ because of its current high cost to produce. Graphene was first isolated in 2004 and Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received the Nobel prize in physics for the discovery in 2010. Graphene has intensely interested scientists since it was identified.

Scientists discovered that graphene exhibits a new type of quantum Hall effect. They also observed that charge carriers in graphene could move in a way similar to massless high-energy particles traveling at relativistic speeds.

Recently scientists at Argonne National Laboratory discovered unusual behavior when gold nanoparticles are placed on one-atom-thick graphene sheets. When a light was shined on the gold particles the scientists observed a plasma field form. The field was symmetric and for the gold particles near the edge of the graphene sheet, it was particularly strong. This is the first time a plasma effect like this has been observed.

The Argonne experiment was made possible with a special kind of electron microscope that allowed scientists to observe materials over very short periods of time. Ilke Arslan, Director at Argonne, said that “having the ability to take measurements like this in such a short time window opens up the examination of a vast array of new phenomena in non-equilibrium states that we haven’t had the ability to probe before. We are excited to provide this capability to the international user community.”

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