Carbon is a material that has been known to change structure or even “heal” itself from structural defects at the atomic level. However doing so requires a level of energy that is difficult if not impossible to reproduce under normal circumstances. An international team of researchers has demonstrated how fast-moving carbon atoms are responsible for many of these healing processes.
The atoms move so fast that they have been difficult to study, until now. The team used some of the most advanced transmission electron microscopes in existence and discovered that carbon atoms that don’t fit into the graphene lattice correctly, so-called “mediator atoms” are the catalysts that help bonds break and re-form.
“Our technique can be likened to those nature programmes on television in which cameramen often have a hard time filming some of the animals, which can be shy,” University of Nantes nanoscientist Christopher Ewels tells Physics World. “They therefore sometimes set themselves up in hides next to a watering hole where they know the animals are sure to go, and that’s how they get their film footage.”
These mediator atoms bond to defective parts of the lattice, taking the place of other atoms which then form new arrangements of their own.
The team’s findings were recently published in Science Advances.