Microscopy Reveals Source of Extraordinary Nanomaterial's Capabilities

Research has been coming fast and furious recently in exploiting the capabilities of graphene for supercapacitors.

One research team, led by Rod Ruoff at the University of Texas in Austin, has been working extensively with graphene to see what they may unlock from this material.

It turns out that one capability for graphene is to make supercapacitors possess both the energy density of lead-acid batteries and the high power density (rapid energy release) of supercapacitors.

“This new material combines the attributes of both electrical storage systems,” said Ruoff in a Brookhaven National Laboratory press release.  “We were rather stunned by its exceptional performance.”

But Ruoff only had a theory as to why the material had such remarkable performance characteristics. His hypothesis was that the material consisted of “a continuous three-dimensional porous network with single-atom-thick walls, with a significant fraction being “negative curvature carbon,” similar to inside-out buckyballs.”

The hypothesis, however, needed some observational experiments and the microscopy team at Brookhaven National Lab, led by Dong Su and Erick Stach had the tools necessary to put it to the test and they published their findings in the May 12th edition of Science.

It turns out Ruoff got it right. “Our studies revealed that Ruoff’s hypothesis was in fact correct,” says Stach “The material’s three-dimensional nanoscale structure consists of a network of highly curved, single-atom-thick walls forming tiny pores with widths ranging from 1 to 5 nanometers, or billionths of a meter.”

While Stach’s conclusion that since the graphene is easily manufacturable and comes from an abundant resource (carbon) is logical, I believe he will discover that the world of business and industry is not quite so clear headed. Maybe Ruoff's start-up company, Graphene Energy, can get it to market.



IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY