Magic-Angle Twisted Bilayer Graphene – Yes, That’s The Scientific Name

In the world of physics research, graphene has been gaining popularity as one of the most remarkable materials in the last 15 years. While it may appear unassuming in common household goods such as pencil leads, the material boasts a higher strength than steel and a higher flexibility than paper. On top of all that, it is also ultra-light and an excellent conductor of electric current and heat.

Recently, physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that stacking two sheets of graphene and twisting a small angle between them reveals an entire new field of material science – twistronics. In a paper published in Nature, researchers have taken a look into this new material, known as the magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene. By modifying the graphene’s temperature, they were able to cause the material to shift from behaving like an insulator to transforming into a superconductor.

A graphic in the New York Times demonstrates some of the interesting properties that arise from stacking and twisting two sheets. Scientists have long known that graphene is a one-layer-thick honeycombed pattern of carbon atoms, but actually separating a single sheet of graphene has been fairly difficult. A low-tech method pioneered by two physicists at the University of Manchester involves using sticky tape to pull apart graphene layers until a single layer is left.

Small imperfections that arise from slightly misaligned sheets manifests in a pattern that allows electrons to hop between atoms in regions where the lattice line up, but unable to flow in regions that are misaligned. The slower moving electrons are thus more likely to interact with each other, becoming “strongly correlated”.

The technique for measuring the properties of this new twisted graphene is similarly low-tech. After a single layer of graphene is separated by sticky tape, the tape is torn in half to reveal two halves with perfectly aligned lattices. One of the sides is rotated by about 1.3 degrees and pressed onto the other. Sometimes, the layers would snap back into alignment, but other times they would end up at 1.1 degrees and stop rotating.

When the layers were cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, they were observed to become a superconductor, an incredibly discovery for the physicists involved in the experiment. Further studies showed that different permutations of temperature, magnetic field, and electron density were also able to turn the graphene into a superconductor. On top of this, the graphene was also able to exhibit a form of magnetism arising from the movement of electrons rather than the intrinsic properties of the atoms. With so many possibilities still unexplored, it’s certain that twistronics will reveal some remarkable findings pretty soon.

[Thanks Adrian for the tip!]

Graphene Is So Yesterday — Meet Borophene

It wasn’t long ago that graphene seemed to take the science and engineering communities by storm. You can make bits of it with a pencil and some sticky tape, yet it had all sorts of wonderful properties. The key, of course, is that it is a single layer of atoms. Now scientists have done the same trick with boron to form borophene, and it looks to be even more exciting than graphene. You can read a pretty dense paper about the material if you want to dig deeper.

The new material is stronger and more flexible than graphene. It appears too that it could boost the performance of lithium-ion batteries. Computer simulations showed that borophene was possible back in 1990, but it wasn’t until 2015 that anyone was able to make any. The material is a good conductor of electricity and heat. It also exhibits superconductivity. Another exciting prospect is that it can be created in different arrangements, each with a unique set of properties. So you may be able to build borophene to be, for example, especially conductive or particularly strong.

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Graphene Desalinates Sea Water

Even though the majority of the Earth is covered in water, a surprising number of people around the world don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. The oceans of course are full of salt, and it is difficult to filter that salt out. Researchers at the University of Manchester have found a way to improve a graphene-based filter mechanism that could help convert sea water to potable water.

Pure graphene can do the job, but it is difficult to manufacture in commercial quantities. In addition, the membrane requires the creation of tiny holes, further complicating the production. The new method uses graphene oxide, which is very simple to make and deploy.

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Cyborg Mushrooms

Of all the fictional cyborgs who turn against humanity to conquer the planet, this is as far from that possibility as you can get. These harmless mushrooms seem more interested in showing off their excellent fashion sense with a daring juxtaposition of hard grid lines with playful spirals. But the purpose of this bacteria-fungus-technology hybrid is to generate electricity. The mushrooms are there to play nurse to a layer of cyanobacteria, the green gel in the photo, while the straight black lines harvest electricity.

Cyanobacteria do not live very long under these kinds of conditions, so long-term use is out of the question, but by giving the cyanobacteria somewhere it can thrive, the usefulness grows. The interplay between bacterial and supportive organics could lead to advances in sensors and hydrogels as well. At some point, we may grow some of our hardware and a green thumb will be as useful as a degree in computer science.

Hydrogels could be the next medical revolution, and we’ve already made hydrogels into tattoos, used them as forms for artificial muscles, and hydrogels can be a part of soft tissue printing.

Carbon Augmented Spider Silk

Some of the creepy-crawlers under our feet, flitting through the air, and waiting on silk webs, incorporate metals into their rigid body parts and make themselves harder. Like Mega Man, they absorb the metals to improve themselves. In addition to making their bodies harder, silk-producing creatures like worms and spiders can spin webs with augmented properties. These silks can be conductive, insulating, or stronger depending on the doping elements.

At Italy’s University of Trento, they are pushing the limits and dosing spiders with single-wall carbon nanotubes and graphene. The carbon is suspended in water and sprayed into the spider’s habitat. After the treatment, the silk is measured, and in some cases, the silk is significantly tougher and surpasses all the naturally occurring fibers.

Commercial spider silk harvesting hasn’t been successful, so maybe the next billionaire is reading this right now. Let’s not make aircraft-grade aluminum mosquitoes though. In fact, here’s a simple hack to ground mosquitoes permanently. If you prefer your insects alive, maybe you also like their sound.

Thank you for the tip, [gippgig].

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.

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Graphene Biosensors Are Extra Quiet

Graphene has attracted enormous interest for electrically detecting chemical and biological materials. However, because the super material doesn’t act like a normal semiconductor, transistors require multiple layers of the material, and that’s bad for 1/f noise especially when the transistors operate at maximum transconductance. Researchers have found a way to operate graphene transistors at a neutral point, significantly reducing 1/f noise while not impacting the sensor’s response.

The team created a proof-of concept sensor that could detect an HIV-related DNA hybridization. The sensor was able to detect very tiny concentrations of the material.

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