Scientists at Northwestern University have found how graphene oxide's inherent defects may present an interesting mechanical property. It seems that graphene oxide exhibits remarkable plastic deformation before breaking; While graphene is very strong, it can still break suddenly. It was found that graphene oxide, however, will deform first before eventually breaking.

The researchers used an experimentation and modeling approach to examine the mechanics of GO at the atomic level. Their discovery could potentially unlock the secret to successfully scaling up graphene oxide, an area that has been limited because its building blocks have not been well understood.

The team found that graphene oxide's plasticity is due to an unusual mechanochemical reaction. Graphene oxide comprises two carbon atoms and one oxygen atom, a formation known as an epoxide. When an epoxide's bonds are chemically broken, the carbon-oxygen bonds break, leaving the carbon-carbon bond intact. The research team, however, found that when a mechanical force was applied to graphene oxide, the carbon-carbon bond broke first, leaving the carbon-oxygen bonds in place.

The team was surprised by this discovery on the atomic scale, and stated that this is completely different than what occurs in other materials and a very unusual property for the graphene oxide sheet.