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Graphene kirigami could lead to flexible, nanoscale machines

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Graphene's looking more and more like an all-around wonder material that can be used to make armor tougher than kevlar, thin light bulbs, long-lasting batteries and even high-tech tattoos. Now, a team of Cornell physicists have discovered that they can make kirigami out of 10-micron sheets (a hair strand's 70-micron-thick, for comparison) of graphene, as well. Kirigami is the art of cutting out designs on a single piece of paper like in the image above. The ones made by the Cornell team are much, much smaller -- they're quite literally nanoscale versions of what you see above -- but since they're made of the wondrous one-atom-thick material, they're also incredibly strong.

During the researchers' testing, they found that their microscopic kirigamis remain perfect and elastic even after being stretched open and closed (the researchers attached gold-tab handles to them so they can manipulate the shapes) 10,000 times. Here's how the study's first author, Melina Blees, describes the experience of watching them get stretched:

It's one thing to read about how strong graphene is; it's another thing entirely to crumple it up and watch it recover, or to stretch a spring dramatically without tearing the materials.

The team believes its creations could serve as flexible, nanoscale transistors and machines for medical purposes and experiments, among other things. One of the project's lead researchers, Paul McEuen, says they "could be placed around human cells or in the brain for sensing."

[Image credit: Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle]

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