Graphene from Graphite by Electrochemical Exfoliation

Graphene is an interesting material, but making enough of the stuff to do something useful can be a little tough. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for new methods, like this electrochemical process for producing graphene in bulk.

You probably know that graphene is a molecular monolayer of carbon atoms linked in hexagonal arrays. Getting to that monolayer is a difficult proposition, but useful bits of graphene can be created by various mechanical and chemical treatments of common graphite. [The Thought Emporium]’s approach to harvesting graphene from graphite is a two-step process starting with electrochemical exfoliation. Strips of thin graphite foil are electrolyzed in a bath of ferrous sulfate, resulting in the graphite delaminating and flaking off into the electrolyte. After filtering and cleaning, the almost graphene is further exfoliated in an ultrasonic cleaner. The result is gram quantity yields with very little work and at low cost.

There’s plenty of effort going into new methods of creating graphene these days, whether by barely controlled explosions or superheating soybean oil. But will graphene be the Next Big Thing? The jury is still out on that.

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Celebrating a Subscriber Milestone with a Copper YouTube Play Button

YouTube channels unboxing their latest “Play Button Award,” a replica of the famous logo in silver, gold, or faux-diamond depending on the popularity of the channel, are getting passé. But a metalworking channel that makes its own copper Play Button award to celebrate 25,000 subs is something worth watching.

[Chris DePrisco] is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, working in various materials but with a strong focus on metalwork. He recently completed a beefy home-brew vertical milling center; we covered his attempt to leverage that platform by adding an extruder and turning it into a large bed 3D printer. For the Play Button build, [Chris] turned to the VMC to mill a mold from what appears to be a block of graphite; good luck cleaning that mess up. He melted copper scrap in a homemade electric furnace and poured it into the preheated mold — a solid tip for [The King of Random]’s next copper casting attempt. The rough blank was CNC machined and polished into the Play Button, and finally mounted behind glass neatly inked with paint pens in the versatile VMC. The final result is far nicer than any of the other Button awards, at least in our opinion.

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Flexible, Sensitive Sensors from Silly Putty and Graphene

Everyone’s favorite viscoelastic non-Newtonian fluid has a new use, besides bouncing, stretching, and getting caught in your kid’s hair. Yes, it’s Silly Putty, and when mixed with graphene it turns out to make a dandy force sensor.

To be clear, [Jonathan Coleman] and his colleagues at Trinity College in Dublin aren’t buying the familiar plastic eggs from the local toy store for their experiments. They’re making they’re own silicone polymers, but their methods (listed in this paywalled article from the journal Science) are actually easy to replicate. They just mix silicone oil, or polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), with boric acid, and apply a little heat. The boron compound cross-links the PDMS and makes a substance very similar to the bouncy putty. The lab also synthesizes its own graphene by sonicating graphite in a solvent and isolating the graphene with centrifugation and filtration; that might be a little hard for the home gamer to accomplish, but we’ve covered a DIY synthesis before, so it should be possible.

With the raw materials in hand, it’s a simple matter of mixing and kneading, and you’ve got a flexible, stretchable sensor. [Coleman] et al report using sensors fashioned from the mixture to detect the pulse in the carotid artery and even watch the footsteps of a spider. It looks like fun stuff to play with, and we can see tons of applications for flexible, inert strain sensors like these.

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Diamond Batteries That Last For Millennia

Like many industrialized countries, in the period after the Second World War the United Kingdom made significant investments in the field of nuclear reactors. British taxpayers paid for reactors for research, the military, and for nuclear power.

Many decades later that early crop of reactors has now largely been decommissioned. Power too cheap to meter turned into multi-billion pound bills for safely coping with the challenges posed by many different types of radioactive waste generated by the dismantling of a nuclear reactor, and as the nuclear industry has made that journey it in turn has spawned a host of research projects based on the products of the decommissioning work.

One such project has been presented by a team at Bristol University; their work is on the property of diamonds in generating a small electrical current when exposed to radioactive emissions. Unfortunately their press release and video does not explain the mechanism involved and our Google-fu has failed to deliver, but if we were to hazard a guess we’d ask them questions about whether the radioactivity changes the work function required to release electrons from the diamond, allowing the electricity to be harvested through a contact potential difference. Perhaps our physicist readers can enlighten us in the comments.

So far their prototype uses a nickel-63 source, but they hope to instead take carbon-14 from the huge number of stockpiled graphite blocks from old reactors, and use it to create radioactive diamonds that require no external source. Since the output of the resulting cells will be in proportion to their radioactivity their life will be in the same order of their radioactive half-life. 5730 years for half-capacity in the case of carbon-14.

Of course, it is likely that the yield of electricity will not be high, with tiny voltages and currents this may not represent a free energy miracle. But it will be of considerable interest to the designers of ultra-low-maintenance long-life electronics for science, the space industry, and medical implants.

We’ve put their video below the break. It’s a straightforward explanation of the project, though sadly since it’s aimed at the general public it’s a little short on some of the technical details. Still, it’s one to watch.

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Saving a bricked phone with a pencil lead

[stompyonos] bricked his Samsung Captivate. Not wanting to be without a phone for a while, he researched a fix online and found shorting a pair of pins on the USB port would put the phone into download mode, saving his phone. The only problem for this plan is [stompy] didn’t have any resistors on hand. Instead, he came up with a wonderful MacGyverism using a piece of paper, a bit of graphite, and a pair of paper clips.

The process of unbricking a Captivate requires a 300 or 330 kΩ resistor across pins 4 and 5 of the mini USB port. This can be done with a few resistors, but [stompy] only had a multimeter lying around. After scribbling a good bit of pencil lead on a piece of paper, he attached two paper clips to make a variable resistor, dialed it in to about 300 kΩ, and cut up an old Nokia charger for its USB plug.

Not bad for a very easy fix that didn’t cost [stompyonos] a dime, and certainly better than a $500 paperweight.

Paper touchpad

If you don’t mind getting your fingers a little dirty you can replace your mouse with a piece of paper. [Dr. West] made this touchpad himself, which measures signals at the corners of the paper using four voltage dividers. The paper has been completely covered with graphite from a pencil (which we see in hacks from time to time), making it conductive. The user wears an anti-static strap that grounds their hand, allowing an Arduino to calculate contact points on two axes when a finger completes the circuit. See this controlling a cursor in the video after the break.

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Better resistors from a pencil

Many of us here in the office (myself included) can’t tell the difference, but the audiophiles out there who want the best sound from their resistors should check out [Troel’s] write-up for making your own non-inductive graphite resistors. Graphite resistors have the traits for being non-inductive, have a negative temperature coefficient, and supposedly sound better. We liked the detail of his tutorial and how he gives many examples for making your own graphite resistor.

[Thanks Maxime]