Researchers at Binghamton University have demonstrated an eco-friendly process that enables unprecedented spatial control over the electrical properties of graphene oxide, which is said to have the potential to revolutionize flexible electronics, solar cells and biomedical instruments.

By using the probe of an atomic force microscope to trigger a local chemical reaction, the scientists showed that electrically conductive features as small as 4 nanometers can be patterned into individual graphene oxide sheets. This approach makes it possible to draw nanoscale electrically-conductive features in atomically-thin insulating sheets with the highest spatial control reported so far, and unlike standard methods for manipulating the properties of graphene oxide, the process can be implemented under ambient conditions and is environmentally-benign, making it a promising step towards the practical integration of graphene oxide into future technologies.

The team states that this approach is promising for lab-scale prototyping of nanoscale conductive patterns in graphene oxide, adding that there is significant interest in defining regions with different functionalities, and writing circuitry into two-dimensional materials. This approach provides a way to directly pattern electrically-conductive and insulating regions into graphene oxide with high spatial resolution. This research not only enables fundamental study of the nanoscale physical properties of graphene oxide but also opens up new avenues for incorporating graphene oxide into future technologies.

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