Background
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Irish scientists have outlined how they managed to make the “wonder material” graphene, incredibly using dishwashing liquid and a kitchen blender!! Graphene is thin, strong, flexible and electrically conductive, and has the potential to transform electronics as well as other technologies.

The Irish-UK team (led by Prof Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College Dublin whose research we profiled in Series One of The Science Squad) poured graphite powder into a blender, then added water and dishwashing liquid, mixing at high speed. The results are published in the journal Nature Materials and their work has been reported by BBC News.

Because of its potential uses in industry, a number of researchers have been searching for ways to make defect-free graphene in large amounts. The material comprises a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Graphite – mixed with clay to produce the lead in pencils – is effectively made up of many layers of graphene stacked on top of one another.

Prof Coleman  and colleagues tested out a variety of laboratory mixers as well as kitchen blenders as potential tools for manufacturing the wonder material. They showed that the shearing force generated by a rapidly rotating tool in solution was sufficiently intense to separate the layers of graphene that make up graphite flakes without damaging their two-dimensional structure.

However, it’s not advisable to try this at home. The precise amount of dishwashing fluid that’s required is dependent on a number of different factors and the black solution containing graphene would need to be separated afterwards. But the researchers said their work “provides a significant step” towards deploying graphene in a variety of commercial applications.

The scientists have been working with UK-based firm Thomas Swan to scale up the process, with the aim of building a pilot plant that could produce a kilo of graphene per day by the end of the year. In addition to its potential uses in electronics, graphene might have applications in water treatment, oil spill clean-up and even in the production of thinner condoms.