Graphene, at only a single atom thick, is one of the most superior compounds known due to its extraordinary mechanical and electronic properties, even as the thinnest material known to man.
However, out of all its diverse capabilities, it lacks one crucial property—it’s not magnetic.
But even that’s about to change, thanks to a new study conducted by researchers from institutions in Spain, France and Egypt, who have successfully demonstrated a form of graphene yielding a “magnetic moment”—the quantity that determines the torque experienced by a magnet in an external magnetic field—which could lead to many more applications for the material.
Ultimately, it could lead to a new age of electronics, replacing traditional electronics with spintronics, transmitting both magnetic and electronic information at the same time.
The research, which was published in Science, shows evidence that hydrogen atoms absorbed by graphene cause it to become magnetic. Graphene bonded with hydrogen atoms results in a compound called (somewhat unimaginatively) “graphane.”
Painting Hydrogen on Graphene
The creation of graphane has been an issue due to the unstable nature of the bonding process, but the team of researchers was able to do the nearly impossible by taking an entirely different approach to tackle the problem.
The team took advantage of graphene’s inherent imbalances, which are caused by point defects or its geometric shape. The imbalance means that there are unequal numbers of carbon atoms in a particular part of the material, and this opens a space for a hydrogen atom to take, essentially becoming a part of graphene’s honeycomb lattice.
The process results in the formation of magnetic moments in the lattice, and can order ferromagnetically depending on where in the material’s structure the magnetism is induced.
This achievement opens graphene to more applications such as information storage at greater densities, making it even more of a remarkable material.
In a perspective paper done by Hollen and Gupta in Science, they outline that despite this success, real life applications of magnetic graphene still poses some difficulty, such as scaling the process from an atomic level.