Researchers at the University of Manchester discover inkjet printable 2D material inks

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By combining graphene with other 2D materials, new materials are being created for applications that were once thought to be science fiction

We’ve all heard about graphene – the world’s first 2D material to be isolated by scientists at the University of Manchester in 2004.

These scientists worked out a way in which to extract it from graphite and despite being the thinnest material ever discovered (it’s only one atom thick), graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, lightweight, flexible and more conductive of copper.

Knowing that they discovered something very remarkable (and for which the two scientists involved won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics ), the University of Manchester set up the £61million National Graphene Institute (NGI).

A video from the University of Manchester discussing how graphene composite materials can be used in many commercial applications and the impact it could have on transport, aerospace and sporting goods in the future

Here the isolation of graphene has led to the discovery of a whole family of 2D materials and also applications for graphene that they claim could revolutionise every part of our every day lives.

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The latest news to come out of NGI is from a team led by Professor Cinzia Casiraghi who are working on 2D crystals formulation for inkjet printing.

They have developed a method of producing water-based and inkjet printable 2D material inks, which could bring 2D crystal heterostructures from the lab into real-world products. Examples include efficient light detectors, and devices that are able to store information encoded in binary form.

A heterostructure is what results from graphene being combined with other 2D materials: The materials are layered up, similar to stacking bricks of Lego, in a precisely chosen sequence.

Any combination is possible which means new materials can be created from the ground up on an atomic level to create materials tailored to exact functions.

Current ink formulations, which would allow heterostructures to be made by simple and low-cost methods, are far from ideal – either containing toxic solvents or requiring time-consuming and expensive processes. In addition, none of these are optimised for heterostructure fabrication.

As reported in Nature Nanotechnology, Prof Casiraghi and her team have developed a method of producing water-based and inkjet printable 2D material inks, which can be used for the fabrication of a wide range of heterostructures by fully exploiting the design flexibility offered by a simple technique such as inkjet printing.

Most notably these inks are also biocompatible, which extends their possible use to biomedical applications.

Prof Casiraghi says: “Due to the simplicity, flexibility and low cost of device fabrication and integration, we envisage this technology to find potential in smart packaging applications and labels, for example for food, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods, where thinner, lighter and cheaper and easy to integrate components are needed”.

Professor of Nanomedicine Kostas Kostarelos, adds: “The engineering of water-soluble 2D inks that are compatible with the biological milieu and interact with organisms without harm can provide a platform of huge potential for a wide range of applications. We are certainly looking at this as the beginning for such inks in the biomedical arena”.


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