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Published: 16 July 2020

Surrey PhD student publishes award-winning work on graphene

Elizabeth Legge, a PhD student who jointly studies at our Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), has published research that could help manufacturers involved in the multi-million pound graphene market.

“Graphene is a two-dimensional material containing a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal lattice,” explains Elizabeth, whose research won the Infared and Raman Discussion Group (IRDG) Chalmers and Dent Award, and saw her present her findings at a conference in Palm Springs, USA. “A single layer of graphene has a thickness of around 0.34 nanometres. To give some idea of scale, one million nanometres form a millimetre.

“But it has impressive qualities. It’s the strongest material ever measured, more than 200 times stronger than steel, so it can significantly increase overall strength when just a small amount of graphene is combined with another material.

“It’s also incredibly light and it has high electrical and thermal conductivity, so it has a wide range of manufacturing and industrial applications.

“This can range from something like adding graphene powders to polymer compounds to create lighter and stronger tennis rackets, to moulding lighter and stronger body parts for cars and aeroplanes.”

However, it’s not always understood why improvements in product performance are achieved, which hinders the rate of product development. This is where Elizabeth’s work comes in.

“The research I’ve published in the journal, ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, describes the wide range of advanced analytic techniques we employed to understand the impact of adding different modifications of a proprietary graphene powder to different polymers,” continues Elizabeth.

“The work I did employed methods novel for commercial samples, such as tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. This uses a laser and a metal probe to scan the surface of a material, and record nanoscale chemical and physical features, which tell us how the modifications of this powder related to final product performance. This meant the company could better comprehend why they were getting increased functionality and durability results in some products, but not in others.

“In the long term, this will be useful for other businesses to assess their use of similar graphene powders. The new analytical techniques I employed suggest traditional methods of testing such powders should be supported by further experiments, like these, to fully determine the material properties.

“It’s valuable information for product development.”

Dr Andrew Pollard, Science Area Leader at NPL, said: “Understanding how the fundamental material properties of commercially available powders containing few-layer graphene affect the final performance of real-world products is crucial if new and innovative applications are to come to market.”

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of ATI at Surrey, added: “Surrey is pleased to work closely with NPL on this and many other strategic programmes that have given highly impactful output.”

Learn more about research at Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute.

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