Graphene, lighter than aluminum, harder than diamond, more elastic than rubber and stronger than steel, behaves like an excellent thermal and electrical conductor. For these peculiarities, it is called to star in an important part of future technological advances in fields such as research, electronics, computer science or medicine.
Now, researchers from the University of Córdoba have devised how this material behaves in a luminescent way, a new feature that was previously lacking and now opens a new field of applications.
As explained by Professor Francisco José Romero Salguero, one of the authors of the research, luminescence is a characteristic of some substances that allows them to emit light at a different wavelength than they have absorbed. In other words, luminescent materials can emit visible light from energy, a property that makes them useful as photocatalysts or fluorescent markers for viewing in macromolecules and biological materials.
The study has been published in the ‘Chemistry: A European Journal’, sponsored by the main chemistry societies at European level, in which UCO researchers Juan Amaro Gahete, César Jiménez-Sanchidrián and Dolores Esquivel, along with another Belgian research group have also participated.
Europium metal incorporation
What really makes graphene special is its hexagonal structure based on highly cohesive carbon atoms using a kind of electronic sandwich cloud. If the connection between the atoms in this cloud is interrupted, explains the researcher Francisco Romero, some of its properties are lost.
Precisely, in overcoming this obstacle has been the success of the investigation. The group has got incorporate luminescence into this material without affecting its other properties, safeguarding the functionality of its complex structure. For this, graphene has been incorporated europium, a metal that coordinates perfectly with the modified molecules of this material and is responsible for conferring light properties.
The results offer immediate applications, since this luminescent graphene can be used in biological materials and in tissue cell analysis. However, research goes further. The fact of having used Europio "is simply a proof of concept," explains the professor at the University of Córdoba César Jiménez-Sanchidrián.
The study opens the door to the use of a variety of chemical elements that, from now on, could be combined with graphene to provide you with new features. For example, if certain types of metals are integrated, magnetic graphene could be generated.
In short, it is a line of research in which this group, belonging to the University Institute of Nanochemistry (IUNAN) and the Faculty of Sciences, will continue working with the objective of adding new properties to the list of graphene qualities, thus increasing the versatility of a substance that has more than promising characteristics and has already earned the qualification of «material from the future".