Graphene-Info is happy to give the stage to talented young graphene researchers, especially those with such commitment and passion as Dr. Maria Giovanna Pastore Carbone, who has agreed to chat with us and answer a few questions about her background, work and collaboration with the Graphene Flagship.
Maria-Giovanna (right) in the lab at FORTH, with collaborator Christos Pavlou
Dr. Maria Giovanna Pastore Carbone is an Italian Materials Engineer, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH/ICEHT). She has been working on graphene since 2015 and has joined the Graphene Flagship in 2017. Her current research in the framework of the Graphene Flagship project is focused on the integration of graphene and related materials for the development of multi-functional systems (such as lightweight composites for EMI shielding applications and coatings for protection against UV-vis radiation and permeation of gasses/vapors), with emphasis on their structure/property relationship.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Dr. Carbone! Very nice to e-meet you. We know you have been involved with graphene research since 2015, can you give us a quick overview of your graphene research interests and projects?
A: During my PhD studies and in my earlier post-doc career at University of Naples Federico II, I developed a multi-scale, holistic approach for the investigation of functional and structural properties of multi-phase materials - mainly polymers and composites – which is based on the use of vibrational spectroscopy, allowing for the correlation of such properties on the macro- micro- and nano-scale. I was really interested in exploiting and extending this approach to new materials, and the “wonder material” represented the most appealing case. So I moved to Greece to join FORTH Graphene Center in 2015 to study the mechanics of graphene sheets using nanomechanical tools combined with Raman spectroscopy. This first approach with graphene took place in the framework of an ERC project (Tailor Graphene, led by Prof. Costas Galiotis), where I could grab the opportunity (and take the liberty!) to broaden my knowledge on the properties of two-dimensional materials and how these can be translated in real-world applications.
Actually, as an engineer, I have always been intrigued by the idea to design novel materials for the development of smart products. Hence, I started being involved in the development of polymer composites based on graphene and in 2017 I started my research in the framework of the Graphene Flagship. For instance, I developed strain sensors using commercial elastomers coated with graphene nanoplatelets that have the ability to detect body movements, soft and compressible nanocomposite foams with tunable electrical conductivity and freestanding graphene-polymer nanolaminates for electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding.
Q: Your current research is focused on graphene-enhanced multi-functional systems. Can you explain how graphene is used? What are your current research achievements and goals?
A: Graphene possesses a unique combination of chemico-physical properties and, in light of that, it represents an exceptional enabler for breakthrough technologies. The inherent properties of graphene-related materials can provide additional functionality to other materials, adding electrical or thermal conductivity, decreasing weight or increasing mechanical strength. A very impressive example for that (i.e. how graphene can provide several multifunctionalities) is represented by the CVD graphene nanolaminate concept. Actually, in the framework of Graphene Flagship - WP14 “Composites”, I am working on the development and scale-up of CVD graphene/polymer nano-laminates, consisting of large-size, continuous graphene sheets separated by thin polymeric layers, which engrain - in a single material – a challenging combination of properties, namely high EMI shielding effectiveness, low
density, small thickness and mechanical integrity. This is still a current endeavor in a number of fields such as aerospace, automotive and, even, electronics.
In fact, so far, the performance of graphene-polymer composites is still below expectations due to several limitations of discontinuous fillers (e.g. graphene nanoplatelets, reduced graphene oxide, etc.), such as small lateral size of the flakes, high number of layers, aggregation and orientation issues. Therefore, in general, higher filler loadings may be required for achieving decent electrical, mechanical and EMI shielding properties. This represents a major limitation to effective industrial application of flake-based graphene polymer composites for the large-scale production of goods. A smart and effective alternative to discontinuous particle-reinforced composites is represented by CVD graphene nanolaminates; however, the design and the production of such a composite material is not straightforward and I and my colleagues have developed an automatic process to produce centimeter-scale nanolaminates that outperform, for the same graphene content, the mechanical, electrical, EMI shielding and gas barrier properties of state-of-the-art flake-based graphene polymer composites. Results of this activity have been published in high impact journals (e.g. Nature Communications). However, there is still a long way to go and my goal is to bring this material out of the lab…
Q: We know you are interested in artwork protection, using graphene (or other 2DMs). Can you tell us more about that?
A: Besides being a researcher, I profoundly love art and I am amateur painter, therefore exploiting science for art’s sake is the realization of a dream. Protecting artworks from harmful factors, such as light, moisture and other organic compounds, is a major concern in museums for pieces in both exhibition and in storage. There are many references to well-known endangered artworks, such as Van Gogh’s ‘the Bedroom’ or Munch’s ‘Scream’, because their colors change and fade. Their main enemies are sunlight, humidity and some volatile organic compounds. Graphene possesses a unique combination of physical properties: among the others, it is transparent, a perfect barrier against gasses and absorbs ultraviolet radiation. In principle, it represents the perfect solution to protect colors from photodegradation.
Graphene blocks ultraviolet light and is a very good barrier to oxygen and moisture: in light of that, it effectively contributes against the color fading by simultaneously reducing the harmful radiation hitting the artwork and hampering the diffusion of oxidizing agents. I and my colleagues at FORTH Graphene Centre have developed a technique to deposit graphene veils on paintings and we proved that these could actually protect the color from fading, upon exposure to visible and ultraviolet radiation. We have also developed paints enhanced with graphene and other two-dimensional materials that possess intrinsic anti fading properties. The research activities were performed in the framework of the ERC Poc GRAPHENART, the outcomes of which are two papers (one published on Nature Nanotechnology and the other on Nanoscale), a national (Greek) patent and two patent applications filed in several countries worldwide, and have attracted the national and the international media.
Q: What can you say regarding working with/at the graphene flagship (since 2017)?
A: Graphene Flagship has been structured on concentrated research efforts involving both academics and industry, which still remains an important paradigm shift for future research. Thanks to such a unique concentration of resources, it has been possible to reach the level of understanding and knowledge that we have now on graphene and other two-dimensional materials, which has enabled disruptive technologies.
Over the past years, the Graphene Flagship has successfully brought graphene out of the lab, creating a fruitful European industrial ecosystem that develops applications of graphene and other two-dimensional materials in several fields. Joining the Graphene Flagship has been a milestone in my career as a researcher as it gave me great networking opportunities. In fact, it allowed me to connect with the highest-level research centers and to get in contact with large companies across various industry sectors such as Airbus, BASF and Fiat and with graphene producers, such as Avanzare and Graphenea. Furthermore, my involvement in the Spearhead projects (such as GBoard) gave me a chance to observe and live the journey of graphene from the laboratory into innovations suitable for commercialiזation.
Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions for young researchers starting out with graphene research?
A: Research around graphene and other two-dimensional materials is intriguing and attractive: i) it brings you from the three-dimensional world to the samples of atomic dimensions; ii) it is impressive how something gossamer, almost invisible can be “magically” integrated in devices and in composites, providing unique, superlative properties. Hence, it’s likely that young researchers starting out with graphene will feel excited and blessed to work with the “wonder material”. However, as in every field, research should be led by love and curiosity, and requires high commitment. Ethics and transparency are fundamental, perseverance and determination as well, especially in hard research times. Never give up: if you cannot find the perfect graphene flake, do not stop at the first sight at the microscope; if your publication is not accepted or you receive criticisms, don’t get stuck but move on and improve your research. Last but not the least, young researchers shall always bear in mind that their mission is to contribute to a better future and to facilitate innovation towards a sustainable world. We should never forget that the only limit is our imagination.
Q: Where do you see graphene making the most impact in 3-5 years?
A: The most immediate applications of graphene, such as composites, inks and coatings are already commercially available (you can have a look at the Graphene Flagship product gallery). For instance, the encapsulation of graphene related materials in polymer masterbatches, which is a significant achievement of the Flagship (WP14 Composites), shows that the use of graphene composites in the everydays life is very close. A practical example is the exploitation of these masterbatches for the development of a smart dashboard for cars, which is the goal of GBoard spearhead project. The industry will soon be ready to absorb and implement the latest innovations and start manufacturing other products, such as batteries, solar panels, electronics, photonic and communication devices and medical technologies. In the near future, the next generation of technology will be enabled thanks to graphene related materials: from interconnects for 5G data communication to wearable health monitors, and flexible mobile screens. Seeing all these materials fully integrated into day-to-day products is our mission.
Thank you, Dr. Maria Giovanna Pastore Carbone, and good luck with your work!