Graphene Ripples, Clean And Limitless Energy Source

Graphene is a seemingly impossible material. For years, scientists had theorized that lifting a single layer of carbon atoms from a chunk of graphite could produce the first two-dimensional material, which they called graphene. Finally, in 2004, this was accomplished by two physicists at the University of Manchester, who earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for this breakthrough. There was a problem, however: two dimensional materials violate the laws of physics. Without the support of a substrate, physics predicts they would tear apart or melt, even at a temperature of absolute zero. Physicists had to find a loophole to explain their existence.

That loophole turned out to be related to a phenomenon known as Brownian motion, small random fluctuations of the carbon atoms that make up graphene. This causes the material to ripple into the third dimension, similar to waves moving across the surface of the ocean. These movements in and out of the flat surface allow graphene to stay comfortably within the laws of physics.

Ever since Robert Brown discovered Brownian motion in 1827, scientists have wondered whether they could harvest this motion as a source of energy. The research of Paul Thibado, professor of physics at the University of Arkansas, provides strong evidence that the motion of graphene could indeed be used as a source of clean, limitless energy. Other researchers have theorized that temperature-induced curvature inversion in graphene could be used as an energy source, and even predicted the amount of energy they could produce. What sets Thibado’s work apart is his discovery that graphene has naturally occurring ripples that invert their curvature as the atoms vibrate in response to the ambient temperature.

This is the key to using the motion of 2D materials as a source of harvestable energy,” Thibado said. Unlike atoms in a liquid, which move in a random directions, atoms connected in a sheet of graphene move together. This means their energy can be collected using existing nanotechnology.

These results have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.


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