Graphene is basically a one-atom thick layer of graphite which is a form of carbon. It is the basic structural element of other allotropes, including graphite, charcoal, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. High-quality graphene has several remarkable properties, due to which it has come to be regarded as a wonder-material of sorts. It is perceived to have immense potential to be the magic bullet to solve a variety of challenges and problems facing a wide range of industries.
Graphene is strong, light, transparent and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Its interactions with other materials and with light and its inherently two-dimensional nature produce unique properties, such as the bipolar transistor effect, ballistic transport of charges and large quantum oscillations.
Long before it was first isolated in 2004, researchers studying carbon nanotubes were already familiar with graphene’s composition, structure and properties. These had been calculated decades earlier. The combination of familiarity, its extraordinary properties, the surprising ease of isolation and unexpectedly high quality of the obtained graphene has triggered frenzy of research into graphene. Ground-breaking work done on this two-dimensional material at the University of Manchester won Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
As a result of all the graphene-focused research being done all over the world, several methods to produce it has been developed, including, among others, physical, chemical and biological means. However, it remains a challenge to create graphene in larger sizes and thicknesses. Researches are also still grappling with the problem of putting single-layer graphene to use in practical applications, since two-dimensional crystals like this are meta stable.
Akshaya Kumar Swain, a research scholar at the IITB-Monash Research Academy in Mumbai, has been working on developing novel methods for synthesizing graphene. He has succeeded in extending these methods to produce several derivatives such as metal oxide – graphene composites. In the process, he has also gained considerable insights into understanding of the inherent magnetism of these derivatives. This has been achieved by exploring the magnetism of graphene in the absence of d-orbitals and magnetic impurities.
Akshaya’s work has resulted in the creation of methods to create graphene quantum dots, twisted graphene layers and graphene ferrofluids. He is working on creating a material, which is based on graphene ferrofluids that can be used to treat cancer without chemotherapy. This new material can minimize the cost of treatment while also helping to spare the patient the side-effects of chemotherapy.
Akshaya has also come up with solutions to several problems faced by researchers in the field. One of these is a set of algorithms which would enable even a beginner to synthesize graphene easily. Another is a means to prevent agglomeration in graphene oxide which is a serious hindrance to its application in the paint and pharmaceutical industries.
The work done by Akshaya has the potential to impact a wide range of dimensions of human existence, since graphene are regarded as holding great promise for applications in a wide range of industries. These include: (a) Medicine, Integrated circuits, (b) Redox, Transparent conducting electrodes, (c) Ethanol distillation, (d) Desalination, Solar cells, (e) Single-molecule gas detection, (f) Quantum dots, (g) Frequency multiplier, (h) Optical modulator, (i) Coolant additive, (j) Reference material, (k) Thermal management, (l) Energy storage, (m) Engineered piezoelectricity, (n) Biodevices, (o) Radio wave absorption.
Says Akshaya, “Carbon is one of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth. Within that very building block, Mother Nature has also hidden a great treasure that can enrich every aspect of our existence. In doing so, she has shown us once again that the genius of Nature, and its beauty, lies in its simplicity! Swain is being guided by Prof Dhiren Bahadur from IIT Bombay, Prof Dan Li from Monash (Australia) and Prof Chai Siang Po (from Monash Sunway, Malaysia).
The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a Joint Venture between the IIT Bombay, India and Monash University, Australia. Opened in 2008, the IITB-Monash Research Academy operates a graduate research program located in Mumbai that aims at enhancing research collaborations between Australia and India. Students study for a dually-badged PhD from both institutions, and spend time during their research in both India and Australia.
Research scholar: Akshaya Kumar Swain, IITB-Monash Research Academy
Project title: Graphene Based Ferromagnetic Nanomaterials
Supervisors: Prof Dhirendra Bahadur, Prof Dan Li, Prof Chai Siang Po
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