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Tiny graphene balloons can withstand tremendous pressures

"Such pressures are enough to modify the properties of a material trapped inside the bubbles," said researcher Ekaterina Khestanova.

By Brooks Hays
Tiny graphene balloons can withstand tremendous pressures
When graphene is placed on a flat substrate, tiny balloons or bubbles often form. For the first time, scientists studied them. Photo by nobeastsofierce/Shutterstock

MANCHESTER, England, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- When a layer of graphene is laid on a flat substrate, small balloons often form. Scientists mostly considered the anomalies an annoyance.

But new research into the tiny pockets of the one-atom-thick material has revealed novel characteristics, like the ability to withstand tremendous pressures.

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Researchers realized these tiny pressure machines could be useful. They could be used as experimental capsules, in which to test how different molecules react to intense pressures.

Scientists at the University of Manchester measured the pressures inside tiny bubbles made of graphene -- as well as pockets made of single layers of molybdenum disulfide, MoS2, and boron nitride -- using an atomic force microscope.

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The tip of the microscope was used to make a dent in the nanobubbles, allowing scientists to measure the resistance and calculate the internal pressure.

Some bubbles showed the ability to withstand internal pressures as high as 200 megapascals, or 2,000 atmospheres. Scientists expect smaller bubbles to withstand even more intense pressures.

Scientists are now contemplating potential applications of the unusual balloons.

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"Such pressures are enough to modify the properties of a material trapped inside the bubbles and, for example, can force crystallization of a liquid well above its normal freezing temperature," Ekaterina Khestanova, PhD student at Manchester, said in a news release.

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Researchers detailed the nanobubles in a new paper, published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

"Those balloons are ubiquitous," explained study co-author Sir Andre Geim. "One can now start thinking about creating them intentionally to change enclosed materials or study the properties of atomically thin membranes under high strain and pressure."

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