Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

World's Thinnest Balloon Created: Just One Atom Thick

Date:
September 22, 2008
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Using a lump of graphite, a piece of Scotch tape and a silicon wafer, Cornell researchers have created a balloon-like membrane that is just one atom thick -- but strong enough to contain gases under several atmospheres of pressure without popping.

Graphene membrane one-atom thick can stretch like a balloon. The membrane is ultra-strong, leak-proof and impermeable to even nimble helium atoms.
Credit: MIT, Jonathan Alden, Brian K. Ireley

Using a lump of graphite, a piece of Scotch tape and a silicon wafer, Cornell researchers have created a balloonlike membrane that is just one atom thick -- but strong enough to contain gases under several atmospheres of pressure without popping.

Related Articles


And unlike your average party balloon -- or even a thick, sturdy glass container -- the membrane is ultra-strong, leak-proof and impermeable to even nimble helium atoms.

The research, by former Cornell graduate student Scott Bunch (now an assistant professor at the University of Colorado), Cornell professor of physics Paul McEuen and Cornell colleagues, could lead to a variety of new technologies -- from novel ways to image biological materials in solution to techniques for studying the movement of atoms or ions through microscopic holes.

The work was conducted at the National Science Foundation-supported Cornell Center for Materials Research.

Graphene, a form of carbon atoms in a plane one atom thick, is the strongest material in the world, with tight covalent bonds in two dimensions that hold it together even as the thinnest possible membrane. It's also a semimetal, meaning it conducts electricity but changes conductivity with changes in its electrostatic environment.

Scientists discovered several years ago that isolating graphene sheets is as simple as sticking Scotch tape to pure graphite, then peeling it back and re-sticking it to a silicone dioxide wafer. Peeled back from the wafer, the tape leaves a residue of graphite anywhere from one to a dozen layers thick -- and from there researchers can easily identify areas of single-layer-thick graphene.

To test the material's elasticity, the Cornell team deposited graphene on a wafer etched with holes, trapping gas inside graphene-sealed microchambers. They then created a pressure differential between the gas inside and outside the microchamber. With a tapping atomic force microscope, which measures the amount of deflecting force a tiny cantilever experiences as it scans nanometers over the membrane's surface, the researchers watched the graphene as it bulged in or out in response to pressure changes up to several atmospheres without breaking.

They also turned the membrane into a tiny drum, measuring its oscillation frequency at different pressures. They found that helium, the second-smallest element (and the smallest testable gas, since hydrogen atoms pair up as a gas), stays trapped behind a wall of graphene -- again, even under several atmospheres of pressure.

"When you work the numbers, you would expect that nothing would go through, so it's not a scientific surprise," said McEuen. "But it does tell you that the membrane is perfect" -- since even an atom-sized hole would allow the helium to escape easily.

Such a membrane could have all kinds of uses, he added. It could form a barrier in an aquarium-like setup, for example, allowing scientists to image biological materials in solution through a nearly invisible wall without subjecting the microscope to the wet environment. Or, researchers could poke atomic-sized holes in the membrane and use the system to study how single atoms or ions pass through the opening.

"This could serve as sort of an artificial analog of an ion channel in biology," McEuen said -- or as a way to measure the properties of an atom by observing its effect on the membrane.

"You're tying a macroscopic system to the properties of a single atom," he said, "and that gives opportunities for all kinds of single atom sensors."

The paper's co-authors are Cornell physics graduate students Arend van der Zande and Jonathan Alden; postdoctoral researcher Scott Verbridge; and professors Jeevak Parpia and Harold Craighead.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bunch et al. Impermeable Atomic Membranes from Graphene Sheets. Nano Letters, 2008; 8 (8): 2458 DOI: 10.1021/nl801457b

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "World's Thinnest Balloon Created: Just One Atom Thick." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922122519.htm>.
Cornell University. (2008, September 22). World's Thinnest Balloon Created: Just One Atom Thick. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922122519.htm
Cornell University. "World's Thinnest Balloon Created: Just One Atom Thick." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080922122519.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Touch-Free Smart Phone Empowers Mobility-Impaired

Touch-Free Smart Phone Empowers Mobility-Impaired

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) A touch-free phone developed in Israel enables the mobility-impaired to operate smart phones with just a movement of the head. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Building Google Into Cars

Building Google Into Cars

Reuters - Business Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Google's next Android version could become the standard that'll power your vehicle's entertainment and navigation features, Reuters has learned. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) What to buy an experienced photographer or video shooter? There is some strong gear on the market from Nikon and GoPro. The AP's Ron Harris takes a closer look. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

Obama: Better Ways to Create Jobs Than Keystone Pipeline

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) US President Barack Obama says that construction of the Keystone pipeline would have 'very little impact' on US gas prices and believes there are 'more direct ways' to create construction jobs. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins