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"Imperfection" in graphene oxide invites surprising properties in a mechano-chemical way

Xiaoding Wei's picture

In an article published in the August 20 issue of Nature Communications, we report a mechanochemical phenomenon in graphene oxide membranes, covalent epoxide-to-ether functional group transformations that deviate from epoxide ring-opening reactions, discovered through nanomechanical experiments and density functional-based tight binding calculations.

As an oxidized derivative of graphene, graphene oxide comprises two carbon atoms and one oxygen atom, a formation known as an epoxide. This can be imagined as a triangle with two carbon atoms at the base and an oxygen atom on top. When an epoxide's bonds are chemically broken, the carbon-oxygen bonds break, leaving the carbon-carbon bond in tact. We, however, found that when an in-plane tension was applied to graphene oxide, the carbon-carbon bond broke first, leaving the carbon-oxygen bonds in place. These mechanochemical transformations in a two-dimensional system are directionally dependent, and confer pronounced plasticity and damage tolerance to graphene oxide monolayers. Additional experiments on chemically modified graphene oxide membranes, with ring-opened epoxide groups, verify this unique deformation mechanism. These studies establish graphene oxide as a two-dimensional building block with highly tuneable mechanical properties for the design of high-performance nanocomposites, and stimulate the discovery of new bond-selective chemical transformations in two-dimensional materials.

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