The many uses of graphene and other carbon-based structures such as carbon nanotubes have been making rounds in the news for the last decade. Usually, it’s alongside the terms lightest, darkest, strongest, and other -est’s, because carbon is one of the most noteworthy elements on the planet. A large part of the human body is even made of carbon. Some intriguing inventions and discorveries in this field include:

  • Vantablack, the world’s darkest substance, which is made out of carbon nanotubes and has also been developed into a sort of “spray paint.” It absorbs light in a way that is mind-boggling to human eyes, has been described as like “staring into a black hole,” and could help with stealthy aircrafts and telescopes.
  • Graphenestone paint that, due to its conductivity, can help heat your home.  
  • This graphene aerogel that is 7 times lighter than air and the lightest material on Earth

When we think of graphene, we immediately think of carbon. But for all the amazing properties of carbon-based graphene, there is one thing that makes it especially useful as well as potentially problematic for the electronics industry–it is highly conductive and has even been turned into a superconductor.

Closely related to traditional, carbon graphene is something called “white graphene” which is made of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) which, although similar in structure to carbon graphene, it serves as an insulator instead of a conductor.

Although it has a higher stability than carbon graphene, it is much more difficult to produce 2D layers of h-BN because it sticks to itself and other materials very strongly.

Recently, however, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Netherland’s TU Delft have worked together by growing a single layer of the material on foil then transferring it onto a silicone substrate  to make the first step in a 2D h-BN that could eventually be used in electronics as tiny mechanical sensors.

Although all of the kinks aren’t worked out just yet, and each sensor currently behaves a little differently due to polymer contamination, the researchers found that by treating the h-BN “drums” with ozone, that they could eliminate imperfections that could cause behavioral differences.

These scientists may have taken the first major step toward creating a standardized process to make these tiny, insulated sensors at scale for use in everything from mobile phones to space electronics.

Have you heard of white graphene before now? Can you think of any other uses for these miniscule drum sensors? Let us know in the comments below!