Researchers have created a graphene aerogel so resistant that it can support a weight of 6,000 times its mass. Outside of resistance, the material has a number of properties such as flexibility and electrical conductivity, making it perfect for electronic devices.
Hao Bai, one of the researchers at Zhejiang University who helped create this material, revealed to Science Alert that “learning from nature has given us the opportunity to create new materials and technologies. The graphene aerogel is different from other current aerogels, both in microstructure and in properties.”
The material weighs only 0.16 milligrams per centimeter, 7.5 times as light as the air and 1,000 times less dense than water. Despite these parameters, it is one of the most resilient materials on the planet.
Bai also explains that “hardness and elasticity are mutually exclusive to normal airgels. It is a great demand for harsh and elastic aerogels in many important industries, but it is very difficult to get both properties.” That is why the group of researchers has focused on nature where “many natural materials have developed unparalleled properties by building complex structures. We have questioned whether we can imitate these features to create an airgel that is both tough and flexible.”
Scientists have used Thalia dealbata, a water-resistant plant in South America and Mexico. Although the stem of this plant is thin and porous, it can withstand strong storms thanks to its stratified microstructure.
The final result was a graphene aerogel that mimics the three-dimensional structure of the plant stem and the qualities of the material surprised the researchers: it can withstand a weight of 6,000 times its mass, and after the weight removal it returned to its original condition.
In terms of electrical conductivity, the material exhibited this property even when a compressive force was applied to it, indicating that it could play a role in flexible sensors and electronic devices.