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Published on 27.07.12

CRANN’s tribute to the Olympics

CRANN saves the day in our new NanoOlympics video which can be seen here.

The stage is set for the Olympics but in this adventure we uncover the plight of the NanOlympians, graphene and carbon nanotubes, who are fighting to be more involved in the Olympic Games.

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are already included in sports equipment to make them stronger yet lighter. But what exactly are CNTs and why is CRANN working with them? Carbon nanotubes are forms of carbon in a cylindrical structure. They have unusual properties which are very valuable in the fields of electronics, optics and materials science. They can be conductive or semi-conductive and have strengths 50 - 100 times greater than steel at one quarter of the density. They can be used in a range of applications from electronic materials; smaller, lighter devices, high strength composites; alternatives to plastics and to make a wide range of everyday goods stronger yet lighter, from bridges and bicycle parts to food packaging and advanced aircraft.

Graphene is another superstar nanomaterial. It is a single layer of graphite (the stuff your pencil is made from) and consists of a sheet of carbon atoms, just one atom thick. This may not seem very mighty but graphene is very strong; measurements have shown that graphene has a breaking strength 200 times greater than steel. Graphene is also an excellent conductor of electricity – it is a very promising candidate for future electronic applications and it is impermeable, not even a helium atom can penetrate a sheet of graphene! CRANN is interested in using graphene for many different applications, including; as sensors for gases or diseases, as a reinforcing material for composites, from day to day household plastics to building materials and for transparent conducting electrodes, required for such applications as touchscreens, liquid crystal displays, organic photovoltaic cells, and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).

One of the big problems in working with nanomaterials is getting them to separate and not stick together all the time. In our NanOlympics video we show how CRANN is solving this problem using a sonic probe. A sonic probe uses sound waves to get particles to break apart from one another.  Professor Jonathan Coleman of CRANN published a paper in 2009, outlining a method to take graphite and separate it into its individual graphene sheets. They stopped them sticking back together by coating each sheet with soap molecules! This resulted in the production of billions of soap-coated graphene sheets dissolved in water. High powered microscopes allowed researchers to see individual carbon atoms, confirming that they had made graphene. Because of its high yield and throughput, this method is ideal for producing graphene in industrial quantities.

No science video would be complete without a mention of Schrodinger’s cat. Every physicists favourite kitty gets a mention in this video and a small reference to Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger thought experiment about quantum mechanics- more information about this sometimes unfortunate cat can be found here.

So there you have it- a nano-scale adventure that will have a big impact in our future!

CRANN would like to wish all the Irish athletes the very best of luck for the London games.


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