Graphene-based nanocomposites – the new frontier

Graphene is one of the thinnest materials in the universe. After graphite (1974), fullerenes (1985), and carbon nanotubes (1991), graphene—another allotrope of elemental carbon—is now at the forefront of scientific curiosity.

Graphene is used in different applications ranging from conductive ink to chemical sensors, light emitting devices, composites, energy, touch panels and high frequency electronics—as its unique electronic, mechanical, optical, thermal and chemical properties have made it most sought-after in nanomaterials science.

However, the use of pure graphene sheets for many applications is limited, despite their excellent characteristics. And this is why researchers, like Prasanta Kumar Sahoo of the IIT-B Monash Research Academy, are trying to introduce controlled functional building blocks in graphene to increase its utility (Prasanta is hoping to improve the properties of graphene and 3D-graphene by the incorporation of metallic nanoparticles and their applications.)

The IITB-Monash Research Academy is a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University. Research scholars study for a dually-badged PhD from both institutions, and enrich their research and build collaborative relationships by spending time in Australia and India over the course of their degree. Established in 2008, the IITB-Monash Research Academy aims to enhance scientific collaborations between Australia and India.

Graphene has many uses

Graphene, is the basal plane of graphite, a one-atom thick two-dimensional honeycomb layer of sp2 bonded carbon. Graphite is created when many graphene layers are stacked regularly in three dimensions. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene."

Graphene-based nanocomposites, derived from the decoration of graphene sheets with metal/metal oxide nanoparticles, are emerging as a new class of exciting materials that hold promise for many applications. The desirable combinations of their properties that are not found in the individual components provide a new way to develop graphene-based nanocomposites.

Apart from enhancing the properties of graphene, the metal and metal oxide nanoparticles act as a stabiliser against the aggregation of individual graphene sheets, which are caused by interactions between graphene layers. Therefore, more efforts and new strategies to synthesize graphene-based nanocomposites are critical.

The synergistic effect between graphene and metal/metal oxide nanoparticles in the graphene-based nanocomposites offers great potential for various applications, including energy storage and energy conversion devices. Therefore, the interest in graphene-based materials has been multiplying, due to their peculiarities in combining desirable properties of building blocks for a given application.

Many efforts have been made to uniformly combine different varieties of nanomaterials with graphene and explore their application in fields like sensing, catalysis, energy, analytical, biotechnology and removal of pollutants.

Prasanta, under the supervision of Prof Dhirendra Bahadur and Prof Dan Li, has synthesised the graphene-metal and 3D-graphene-metal-based nanocomposites by various chemical reduction methods. The as-synthesized graphene-metal nanocomposites and 3D-graphene-metal nanocomposites are used for electrochemical sensors, advanced catalysis, electromagnetic shielding and energy applications.

Prasanta's motivation is simple. "Research always has ups and downs. But there's no feeling to match that of solving a problem, which no one in the world has solved earlier."

Dr Murali Sastry, CEO, the IITB-Monash Research Academy, couldn't agree more. "I am excited about the IITB-Monash Research Academy and its potential to make significant contributions to science and innovation, business and society in India and Australia. It is pleasing to see Prasanta, under the guidance of Prof Bahadur and Prof Li, carry out cutting-edge research on what is considered one of the hottest topics in materials science. I am confident that the unique collaboration model that the 'Academy' follows will attract innovation-led industry, top-ranking students and the best researchers to work together to solve grand-challenge problems."

Research scholar: Prasanta Kumar Sahoo, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Design of Graphene-Metal Nano-composites for Electrochemical Sensors and Catalytic Applications

Supervisors: Prof Dhirendra Bahadur (IITB), Prof Dan Li (Monash)

Contact details: prasanta.sahoo@monash.edu

The above story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.