Technology of the future has always been envisioned as metallic and robotic. Lifeless, humming computers that excel at their tasks. But as it turns out, bacteria could find it’s way into these complex systems.
Nanomaterials – or materials small enough to be manipulated on a molecular level – have captured the attention of researchers looking to develop more efficient computers and devices. One such nanomaterial is graphene; a strong, flexible and conductive material made of carbon, which is as thin as a single layer of atoms.
Graphene is capable of many things, but perhaps it’s biggest potential use is to conduct electricity.
Unfortunately the process of creating graphene has always been slow, and the end result of this slow work is occasionally thicker than it should be.
But now a team of researcher at the University of Rochester say they’ve found a solution to this problem, which may not. The scientists developed the method while searching for an efficient and environmentally friendly way of producing graphene. It involves biological matter – a bacteria called Shewanella – and a process involving basic graphite.
From left to right, A vial of graphite (Gr), like what you would find in an ordinary pencil; a vial of graphene oxide (GO), produced by exfoliating Gr—shedding the layers of the material—and mixing it with the bacteria Shewanella; a vial of the resulting product—graphene materials (mrGO); and a vial of graphene materials that have been produced chemically (crGO). The graphene materials produced by Anne Meyer’s lab are significantly thinner than the graphene materials produced chemically. (Delft University of Technology photo / Benjamin Lehner)
The team started by shedding layers of graphene oxide from pieces of graphite. Once this process was complete, the bacteria Shewanella was added to the graphene oxide and left overnight. Over the next few hours, the bacteria would alter the graphene oxide, and eventually reduce it to the proper graphene material.
The result is a thinner, stronger and more conductive form of graphene that can also out-last the graphene produced using other methods before it breaks down.
Graphene can then be used for a variety of applications, such as conductive ink, which the researchers describe as an easier way to produce electrical circuits. Because of the flexibility and strength of graphene, this conductive inking process has much potential; for example creating a working circuit on top of an unconventional material such as paper.
Despite being new, the team believes this method will have many benefits in the future.