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Chapter 24: Nematic phase formation in suspensions of graphene oxide


    The last decade has seen the rise of graphene. Graphene is a single layer of graphite; it can be obtained by direct liquid phase exfoliation of the latter through harsh sonication. This technique presents the disadvantage to produce small graphene flakes (typically in the 0.05 to 0.4 μm2 range for the monolayers) and multilayer graphene with uncontrolled thickness distributions. In order to improve the exfoliation process, one has to counter the strong van der Waals interactions between the carbon planes of graphite. This implies to increase the distance between two planes and it can be done, for example, by oxidizing graphite to introduce oxygen species in the graphenic planes. The fabrication of graphite oxide is known for almost 150 years, and it became popular again these last ten years. Generally, the oxidation of graphite is performed following a method described by Hummers in the 1950’s and the material produced by this technique exfoliates quasi-spontaneously into monolayer species called graphene oxide (GO). The highly anisotropic shape of GO (several μm in length and width for a thickness of ca. 1 nm) combined with the presence of oxygenated functions on the sp2 carbon structure of graphene lead to the formation of a lyotropic liquid crystalline phase in water. Above a certain concentration of graphene flakes the gain in translational entropy for a long-range ordered phase outweighs the loss in rotational entropy, and the liquid crystal phase then forms. The value of the threshold is affected by the aspect ratio of the graphene flakes but other factors such as the interactions also play a strong role.