Super paper - tough as steel

29 July 2007
Posted by Chris Smith.

Scientists at Northwest University in Illinois have created a super-paper, made of carbon that is tougher than steel, but still more flexible than ordinary carbon fibre. And even better than that, it's cheap!

Carbon has always been known as a fantastic chemical for producing strong materials, diamond, for example is made of a regular lattice of carbon atoms making it incredibly tough. Scientists have also created super strong carbon nanotubes, which are hollow fibres only a few atoms across made of carbon. The problem with carbon nanotubes is that they are expensive and complicated to make, which limits their usefulness.

The new carbon paper, by contrast is cheap and easy to produce, the team put graphene oxide particles which contain carbon into specially treated water and suck it through a filter. The water causes the grapheme to form a paper like structure on the surface of the filter, although exactly how this works isn't known.

This cheap strong product has potential applications in protective coating or electronic components, however it does have one problem - re-exposing the paper to water causes it to break down. Because water is so common, either in liquid form or just as vapour in the air this poses significant limitations. The race is now on the produce a waterproof version of the paper to increase its usefulness and who knows in a few years time you may be able to fly away on holiday in a paper plane.

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