When one of the top research organizations in the world makes a list of potential applications for graphene in electronics and that list consists of one application—RF electronics—it might be time to look somewhere else.
Of course, researchers around the world already know this, and they've been exploring a variety of medical applications, such as graphene-based gene sequencing techniques, and other far-out things like a contact lens that would give the user infrared vision.
Now researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have made a surprise discovery with graphene oxide that could lead to the material's use in disease detection and drug delivery.
In research published in the journal ChemComm, the Australian researchers discovered that when graphene oxide is exposed to a certain pH level it transforms into liquid crystal droplets. Previously, researchers needed atomizers and other mechanical equipment to change graphene into a spherical form.
“To be able to spontaneously change the structure of graphene from single sheets to a spherical assembly is hugely significant. No one thought that was possible. We’ve proved it is,” said Monash's Rachel Tkacz in a press release. “Now we know that graphene-based assemblies can spontaneously change shape under certain conditions, we can apply this knowledge to see if it changes when exposed to toxins, potentially paving the way for new methods of" disease detection.
In addition to disease detection, the researchers believe that the spontaneous transformation of graphene oxide into liquid crystal droplets could lead to new approaches to drug delivery.
“Drug delivery systems tend to use magnetic particles which are very effective but they can’t always be used because these particles can be toxic in certain physiological conditions,” said Mainak Majumder, one of the researchers, in the release. “In contrast, graphene doesn’t contain any magnetic properties. This combined with the fact that we have proved it can be changed into liquid crystal simply and cheaply, strengthens the prospect that it may one day be used for a new kind of drug delivery system."
While this would appear pretty preliminary research, and one based on a serendipitous discovery, the Monash researchers have found industrial partners that are working with them to translate the discovery into commercial applications.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.