Long hypothesized ‘next-generation miracle material’ made for the first time

For more than a decade, scientists have tried with limited success to synthesize a new form of carbon called graphene. However, that pursuit has now come to an end, thanks to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Graphyne has long been of interest to scientists for its similarities to the “wonder material” graphene — another form of carbon highly prized by the industry whose research was even awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Despite decades of work and theorizing, few fragments have ever been created before.

This research, announced last week in Nature Synthesisfills a long-standing gap in the science of carbon materials and potentially opens up brand new avenues for research in electronics, optics and semiconductor materials.

“The entire public, the entire field, is very excited that this long-standing problem, or this imaginary material, is finally being realized,” said Yiming Hu, the paper’s lead author and 2022 doctoral student in chemistry.

Scientists have long been interested in the construction of new or novel carbon allotropes, or forms of carbon, because of carbon’s industrial utility and versatility.

There are several ways carbon allotropes can be constructed, depending on how sp2, sp3, and sp hybridized carbon (or the different ways carbon atoms can bond to other elements) and their corresponding bonds are used. The most well-known carbon allotropes are graphite (used in tools such as pencils and batteries) and diamonds, which are made of sp2 carbon and sp3 carbon, respectively.

Using traditional chemical methods, scientists have successfully created several allotropes over the years, including fullerene (the discovery of which won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996) and graphene.

However, these methods do not allow the different types of carbon to be synthesized together in any form of large capacity, such as what is needed for graphite, allowing the theorized material – believed to have unique electron-conducting, mechanical and optical properties – to do that. stay: a theory.

But it was also this need for the non-traditional that prompted those in the field to reach out to Wei Zhang’s lab group.

Zhang, a chemistry professor at CU Boulder, studies reversible chemistry, a chemistry that makes bonds self-correct, allowing the creation of new ordered structures or lattices, such as synthetic DNA-like polymers.

After being approached, Zhang and his lab group decided to give it a try.

Making graphite is a “very old, long-standing question, but as synthetic tools were limited, interest declined,” noted Hu, who was a PhD student in Zhang’s lab group. “We brought up the issue again and used a new tool to solve an old problem that’s really important.”

Using a process called alkyne metathesis – which is an organic reaction that involves the redistribution, or cutting and reshaping, of alkyne chemical bonds (a type of hydrocarbon with at least one carbon-carbon triple covalent bond) – as well as thermodynamics and kinetic control, the group was able to successfully create what had never been created before: a material that could match graphene’s conductivity, but with control.

“There’s a pretty big difference (between graphene and graphene), but in a good way,” Zhang says. “This could be the wonder material of the next generation. That’s why people are very excited.”

While the material has been successfully created, the team is still looking to explore its specifics, including how to make the material on a large scale and how to manipulate it.

“We’re really trying to explore this new material from multiple dimensions, both experimentally and theoretically, from the atomic level to real devices,” Zhang said of the next steps.

These efforts, in turn, should help explore how the material’s electron-conducting and optical properties can be used for industrial applications such as lithium-ion batteries.

“We hope that in the future we can reduce costs and simplify the reaction procedure, and hopefully people can then really benefit from our research,” said Hu.

For Zhang, this would never have been possible without the support of an interdisciplinary team, adding, “Without the support of the physics department, without some support from colleagues, this work probably could not have been done.”

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