Graphene, Heal Thyself: Carbon Molecule Can Rebuild Holes

By Sophie Bushwick | July 11, 2012 10:47 am

graphene patch
The graphene filled in the smaller hole with fresh
carbon atoms

Due to their extraordinary abilities, graphene and other one-atom-thick molecules like carbon nanotubes have enormous potential for use in fields from electronics to medicine. For example, graphene is physically strong, transparent, flexible, and a great conductor of both electricity and heat—and now the two-dimensional carbon molecule can add another power to its roster: self-healing. When researchers made holes in a graphene sheet, the molecule rebuilt its own structure using new carbon atoms. This ability might help researchers grow graphene in large quantities and specific shapes.

Physicists led by Konstantin Novoselov, who along with Andre Geim discovered graphene and won the physics Nobel Prize, trained an electron microscope at a sheet of graphene. They deposited palladium or nickel, which damage graphene by encouraging carbon bonds to break, onto a section of the sheet. When the researchers shot an electron beam at the damaged area, the beam mobilized the metal atoms to eat away at the graphene, etching nanometer-scale holes. But the holes didn’t last long: Provided with a reservoir of spare carbon atoms, the graphene incorporated the fresh carbon to patch the holes, as can be seen in the image.

This rebuilding ability may help solve a serious obstacle. Graphene would be an ideal material for electronics, but it is difficult to mass-produce. The new discovery suggests that by tweaking the process, researchers could add new carbon atoms along the edges of existing sheets to grow graphene. And the etching technique—which unlike earlier methods can be performed at room temperature—will make it easy to cut those new sheets into specific shapes, bringing graphene-based electronics one step closer to reality.

[via Technology Review]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
  • Rebecca Fletcher

    It’s amazing to see the science fiction I grew up on coming to life … Star Trek TNG anyone? The episode where the Nanites take over the ship? That this science is now real (to an extent) is thrilling.

  • DL Shelton

    I was thinking more along the lines of self healing hulls on aircraft, ships at sea, or even space craft. An outer hull of graphene with an inner seal of another material with carbon sprinkled between the two. Or, better yet, a sandwich of graphene/carbon/graphene.

  • Pippa

    We have to imagine it to know what we are aiming for – then we find a way. Geeks tinkering in garages are a great resource! I look forward to taking graphene sheets for granted!

  • Jonny

    Just want to say this topic is orders of magnitude more interesting to me than the apparent Higgs Boson discovery, thanks for posting this. There is reason to think that building and sustaining a base on Venus would be more feasible than on Mars and graphene is in the details!

    Graphene 3D printers!!!

  • John Heininger

    Good article. Having earlier looked at some of the breathtaking complexity of biological machinery involved in human body, I have concluded that Darwinism is well short of ever producing such biological capabilities, particularly when natural selection has no overall perspective and absolutely no predictive power. Meaning, natural selection wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of where anything and everything was evolving to, or even why. Let alone fully integrate everything in a vastly complex workable whole.

  • http://Home andras

    John: just because we are able to formulate a question, does’nt mean that we have the RIGHT to an answer…-Want to know WHERE is everything evolving to? Or WHY? I for one, I am happy to know, understand, that we are evolving… -What do you want , an address?

  • Patrik Etschmayer

    Fascinating material. How about Graphene-Shirts? With all the cool properties of this stuff, it might as well repell dirt and provide a built-in deodorant!
    As for John: You obviously have no clue what “Darwinism” and “Natural Selection” means.

  • michael sirbola (aka: very slow-learning species, or… ?)

    Perhaps it is worth considering what underlies the fascination we have for this phenomenon?

    What is it that we innately sense in this, one of nature’s many wonders?

    The newest of the super material is made of atoms and yet displays characteristics we reserve for things that are “alive.” Perhaps we sense a core, crude, simple as can be characteristic of life? Is this a beautiful example of a basic characteristic of life’s displayed in an ideal, basic, primal, elegant way?

    Sci-Fi Supersuper-short Story and short Existence (long title)

    Societies construct ever larger contiguous sheets of magical graphene as a matter of pure economic sensibility, and eventually, as inevitably as when programmed in a computer simulation – a form of electronic carbon-based life comes into existence… is this the source of the all-surrounding deafening silence we endure? We will soon know – no way around it. 😉

  • emkay

    self healing! what if our government and other ‘a-holes would get out of the way and allow stem cell research to heal all sorts of maladies and even grow new organs, nerves, and spinal cord tissues.. it could result in all kinds of medical miracles…

  • Tom Dombrosky

    I want to put my name first on the list for a new graphene suit. Wow! Never needs cleaning and repairs itself.

  • Joseph

    I wish they had not used the term “self-healing”.

    This term, without further in depth thought by the reader, implies it is alive and/or that it is an amazing power imbued by God and shows that we are wrong in such and such a belief. This is at best anthropomorphism applied to Carbon and at worst a misunderstanding of what is happening.

    It is not alive. This is a reaction. It is like crystallization. If you keep feeding a crystallizing solution the raw material under the right conditions it will just keep making crystals. Crystals are not alive.

    This is an awesome discovery that carbon can do this in this way. It is not a miracle. It does not add nor take away from arguments for or against Darwinism or Creationism or Intelligent design.

    It is simply beautiful science. A more complete understanding of existence through theorization, observation and adjustment of what we knew. We now know Carbon does this and we can use this knowledge to further ourselves. That is what is nifty here.

  • kik


  • michael sirbola (aka: very slow-learning species, or… ?)

    I did not mind the term self-healing at all. I too understand it as crystallization and a reaction and am filing patents on this now, and have patents on the manufacture of the the crystal films on high-density memory disks that make memory so amazingly inexpensive that we hardly give it a thought.

    In regard the irrelevance of religiosity in this matter, where wonder and awe suffice – I myself was inspired enough by these last two alone to go as far as to do some work on the topic of my own! In fact, I am noting the date of this and of a prior comment (I presume you may have read) as corroborating evidence for the dating of the invention on a patent in which I propose to use this self-healing capability. Had the description been too boring I might not have read it, then no flash of insight and possible new patent!

    The phenomenon (self-healing holes) is not alive, most true! The reaction is not particularly unusual at this scale or unexpected – What this inanimate phenomenon shares with the animate wonder of life is its refusal to remain inanimate like good inanimate matter should (so we like to think at our macro-scale of seeing the world). Watching life is fun because it moves on its own, watching these holes is fun because they close and move on their own.

    In this is the same wonder of standing motionless staring intensely at a caterpillar on its travail – this is something the common man can “grok” in the vernacular popularized by the science-fiction prophet, Robert Heinlein.

    Metaphor and Science and Self-healing and Religion, Ewe!

    Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

    I have friends with electron microscopes they’ve fixed-up and play with, flying about mini-universes that hold this same wonder for them of exploring caves deep below, cavernous and never before seen by human eye – In short… Even in hard science, especially, one wishes to encourage the holding of objects in ones hand, even a rock, and staring at it for long periods of time without being subject to public ridicule, criticism and catcalls. Not that this has ever happened to me, personally, of course 😉 !

    Some say the universe is alive, if so… then this would be one of the many interesting places one would wish to look in the hope of getting a glimpse of how it all works. Peekaboo says the universe, here a hole, there a hole, no more hole! What hole! Where’s the hole? Funny universe!

  • michael sirbola (aka: very slow-learning species, or… ?)

    www (dot) conwaylife (dot) com (slash) forums (slash) viewtopic (dot) php (question-mark)


    Google search the words UNIVERSAL CONSTRUCTOR BASED SPACESHIP and up will pop Conway’s wonderful site where first reports are in on the reality of this wonderful creature, err… sorry, I meant creation – wonderful for all the intimations of things yet to come… 😉 ?

  • Geack

    @5. John – you’re so wrong you trolled the wrong post entirely.

  • McKinley Johnson

    I kinda agree with John. Some people might misinterpret the word and could cause a rather lengthy but unfruitful debate.


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