DIY Graphene Putty Makes Super Sensitive Sensor

It is sort of an electronics rule 34 that if something occurs, someone needs to sense it. [Bblorgggg], for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious, needs to sense ants moving over trees. No kidding. How are you going to do that? His answer was to use graphene.

Actually, his super sensitive sensors mix graphene in Silly Putty, an unlikely combination that he tried after reading (on Hackaday, no less) about similar experiments at Trinity College resulting in Gputty. The Gputty was highly sensitive to pressure, and so it appears is his DIY version called Goophene. At Trinity they claimed to be able to record the footsteps of a spider, so detecting ant stomping didn’t seem too far-fetched. You can see a video of the result, below.

Silly Putty, which is just silicone putty, gives the graphene an unusually large dynamic range. That is, it can detect large pressures (say, a finger pressing) and still detect a very faint pressure (like your heart beating through the finger). Apparently, the graphene lines up to become pretty conductive in the putty and then any deformation causes the resistance to go up. However, when the pressure subsides, the graphene lines back up.

This isn’t just for ants, of course. Some of the items that Goophene has detected successfully include:

  • Heartbeats
  • Breathing
  • Swallowing
  • Talking
  • Light touches with a napkin
  • Typing on a table nearby
  • Finger Movements

As sensitive as it, though Goophene has only successfully detected angry ants. Apparently, ants are light steppers unless they are stomping mad.

The Gputty used some harsh chemicals and lab procedures. Goophene is a lot easier to make and looks like you are mixing epoxy to the untrained eye. You don’t have to do it, but you can get a better blend using an electric massager that he apparently uses on his back.

In addition to just making a pliable sensor, you can also embed monofilament line into the putty and make super sensitive artificial cilia. Just the thing for your next artificial alien project.

There are quite a few videos in the post you can check out. The second video below, though, shows the device sensing a captive ant’s footsteps. We presume it is the captivity that’s making him angry enough to show up.

[Bblorgggg] must really want to sense the little critters because he bought graphene which is quite expensive. However, we’ve covered a lot of ways to make it if you want to try your hand at making Goophene. Depending on how much you need and what you can start with, there are several methods to choose from.

34 thoughts on “DIY Graphene Putty Makes Super Sensitive Sensor

    1. Perhaps. If you have ever used a strain gauge your first inclination is that building a load cell is easy. And it is. As long as it is held at the same temperature all the time. My guess is this stuff is going to be sensitive to both temperature and humidity.

      It would be interesting to see what the linear output from the sensor looks and or sounds like.

    1. That would assume that the keys had some distinctive TEMPEST-like mechanical vibration that you could tell them apart. I don’t know if that’s true, but I would guess not.

  1. I think some of the peaks on the screen are due to the fingers of the ant holder pressing against the tissue the blob is on. Also, I’d suggest putting your blob inside an ant vivarium with some kind of bait that’d make the ants (want to) walk over the blob.

  2. Oh thanks for posting about this! If anyone has any more tips on making the Goophene better or ways of making robust, cheap sensor for ants moving over arbitrary 3D geometry. You can hit me up! andrew.quitmeyer (aaattttt]

    (Or you want to go play with electronics and sensors and ants with me at a free “Digital Naturalism Conference” )


  3. I remember the days when C60 was going to save the world. It didn’t. In fact, I don’t think anybody has found any actual use for it yet. Now its ‘graphene this’, ‘graphene that’, all over TED and other usual outlets of hipster hype. Its about as useful as chocolate teapots, and blockchain and quantum computers. Of course, the problem must be that we haven’t given the professors enough money yet.

    1. The grapheney-ness jumped out at me too. I really have to wonder if that $200 bottle from China is anything more than run of the mill graphite powder. How many people buying their materials that way would have any way to check?

    2. Well here’s a use for you. This specific form in the video, contained in a plastic cylinder mounted on a circuit board in a form factor similar to a capacitor. Extremely sensitive vibration sensor.

    1. What the hell are you talking about? Pressure sensitive pen? What?
      You mean putting silly putty with graphene below the screen for a new kind of wacom interface? Interesting idea.
      In fact if spread out between two plates and with contact at various points along the edge you might be able to determine the location of the actual signal apart from the signal intensity without needing a whole grid of contacts.

      Talking of which, this graphene goop could also be used to make MIDI instruments I guess (unless it’s already being done).

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