The research objective of this Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) project is to test the broad hypothesis that graphene may be rendered aggregation-resistant by simultaneous exfoliation and non-covalent functionalization. This would facilitate use in a range of promising bulk material applications, and this would substantially improve upon existing graphene production techniques, which suffer from a range of problems (small-scale, compromising properties via defect generation, aggregation). This project will address these critical challenges through a number of research thrusts. These include (1) combining bulk intercalation techniques with stabilizer solutions, (2) the post-processing of dispersed pristine graphene to induce novel, aggregation-resistant morphologies, and (3) investigation of processing effects on graphene performance in conductive, low density composites and monoliths.
If successful, the results of this research will yield techniques that are orders-of-magnitude more effective than prior methods in processing stabilized graphene. The proposed project also provides insight into how the processing technique (exfoliation, stabilization, spray drying) determines the structure (chemical functionality, surface coverage, morphology) and hence the properties (aggregation resistance, gas barrier, electrical percolation, composite enhancement). The development of scalable processing for pristine graphene is relevant to a wide range of multifunctional industrial materials including aerospace structural composites, sensors, supercapacitors, and flame-retardant textiles. The multifaceted educational plan includes (1) graduate, undergraduate, and high school student mentorship, (2) a new program designed to encourage engineers to pursue graduate studies, and (3) an expansion of the PI?s successful ?Science and Science Fiction? outreach course that aims to increase STEM interest at local high schools.