Graphene has been described as the WONDER MATERIAL and was first discovered at The University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov. It is a lattice of carbon atoms, the building block of graphite. Graphene is the strongest known material, yet it’s also stretchy. It can conduct electricity and heat incredibly well, but is only a single atom thick and has a wide range of applications, from aerospace engineering to digital electronics and biomedicine.
I knew about this Manchester SUPER MATERIAL and it’s properties of being super conductive and electrically capacitive and wanted to see if I could use this futuristic material as a sculptural interface for live performance with Ableton and electronics.
As well as tying in with the MATERALITY project, I had been asked by music company Brighter Sound to be one of four female electronic musicians to run a residency at the Sage in Gateshead called ‘Making Waves‘ part of their ‘Hexagon Experiment‘ programme series of Friday night events for Great Exhibition of the North, all inspired by the discovery of graphene.
I made a connection with Edurne Redondo, Research Associate of the University of Manchester whose research focuses on the use of graphene materials for electrochemical capacitors. Edurne describes her research here
“I am preparing electrodes with different graphene materials at different concentrations and doing their electrochemical characterisation, to optimise some important parameters, such as, the capacitance, the conductivity, the voltage window, the mass ratio between positive and negative electrode, etc. With the final aim of improving the energy density of these energy storage systems.”
My first questions were about the current applications of graphene and about the form/structure it is currently available in. Edurne kindly discussed how they work with the material and invited me back to watch the process and make some graphene tests/samples that I could take away to test with.
Mixing up graphene test material
The first stage is to create a ‘slurry’, a spreadable fluid, this is 9.0g of graphene powder (commercially available Edurne informed me) and 1.0g of a binding agent (non toxic) that when mixed thoroughly with the particles means the slurry can be spread onto a surface and it will stick. The slurry is mixed for a minimum of three hours in a high speed mixer to fully breakdown the particles and mix in the binding agent.
Once mixed it’s time to spread onto a conductive surface, the research lab use a variety of thin sheet materials, for our tests we used lengths of copper and carbon coated aluminum. These sheets are layed out and secured in place via a vacuum surface, the graphene slurry is piped on at one end (via pipette) of this amazing machine that spreads the graphene very thinly across the material, very mesmerising to watch!
The trick is to try and get an even coverage right the way across the sheet, this depends on how well the slurry is mixed ie. the viscosity and also the height setting of the spreader. For Edurne’s research she cuts very small circular discs of the graphene material to use within coin cells so it doesn’t matter so much if there are uneven areas on the whole surface as she can select the most even areas. Here are some images of the thinly spread graphene and us in the lab. Next steps are to work out how I can use this very delicate form of the material as a capacitive musical interface.
Here’s a clip of sonically mashed up educational youtube footage about graphene…