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Atom-Thick Balloon Inflated 120

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the only-a-little-hot-air dept.
Anonymous Cow writes "Researchers have inflated gas-filled balloons of graphene, the atom-thick carbon material being used to make super-small transistors. Apart from giving them a valid claim to be in the Guinness Book of Records, it could apparently be handy for weighing microscopic objects. 'The sheets were used to seal microscopic wells made in a layer of silica glass, forming a kind of drum head. The membranes were held in place only by the van der Waals forces that make things sticky at microscopic scales. The wells varied from 1 to 100 square micrometers in area and 250 nanometers to 3 micrometers deep.'"
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Atom-Thick Balloon Inflated

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  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ArcherB (796902) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:15PM (#24531191) Journal

    Just Friggin Great!
    Now my kid's going to want one of THESE tied to her wrist!

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Given that a single atom thickness will probably be invisible, she will be just as happy if you make an imaginary balloon for her to tie to her wrist! Imaginary stuff is a lot cheaper than real stuff and a typical small child will be just as happy (if not more so when you imagine with them).
  • (((pop))) (Score:4, Funny)

    by isomeme (177414) <cdberry@gmail.com> on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:16PM (#24531201) Homepage Journal

    This will immediately lead to a companion record for the world's quietest popping sound when one of them has a weak point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by non0score (890022)
      And the first mass-market mechanical use will be for bubble wraps. "Now with more bubbles for you to pop!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Note that in order to pop this balloon you need to find a pin that is at least two atoms thick.
  • Prick? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Do we have an atom thick needle to prick it?

  • .. on making balloon animals. Let's see how creative balloon sculptors can get with these!
  • consumer uses (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jgarra23 (1109651) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:21PM (#24531295)

    this will be the thinnest condom ever!

    • Re:consumer uses (Score:4, Insightful)

      by thermian (1267986) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:24PM (#24531335)

      this will be the thinnest condom ever!

      That's not as daft as you might think, for many people the stated reason for not using condoms is lack of sensitivity caused by their thickness.

      Were there a way to reduce thickness to this extent, there would be a huge amount of money to be made.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by HTH NE1 (675604)

        Were there a way to reduce thickness to this extent, there would be a huge amount of money to be made.

        In lawsuits when they break. One atom thick? That's makes for some pretty sharp edges of busted condom to have in sensitive places for both parties.

        • Re:consumer uses (Score:4, Informative)

          by thermian (1267986) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:43PM (#24531617)

          At that level I think you'll find that connection strength is somewhat strong.

          • Re:consumer uses (Score:5, Informative)

            by ardle (523599) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:49PM (#24531675)
            And so are the van der Waals forces.
            • by thermian (1267986) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:56PM (#24531765)

              What! Who let the physicists in?

              Listen you, this is the internets, we can't be dealing with your smug 'fundamental laws of the universe' stuff.

              If it don't explode, or have boobies, it ain't interesting, YOU GOT THAT!!!!!

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                Well, I think the grandparent post is making the implication that due to substantial van der Waals forces (the forces that hold sheets of graphene together as graphite, as well as the forces most responsible for making sticky things sticky), a graphene monolayer condom would be sort of like covering your penis in double-sided adhesive tape. I'm going to make the argument that this little factoid could, under the right (wrong?) circumstances, could conceivably fall in both categories deemed interesting to t
                • by thermian (1267986) on Friday August 08, 2008 @06:58PM (#24533027)

                  I was going to construct an elegant and incisive rebuttal to your comment, but your use of the term 'graphene monolayer' confused me, and I find myself resorting to a response of lower intellectual calibre.

                  To whit

                  "So's your face"

                  I am reliably informed that this always works, therefore I win..

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  except of course it's totaly erroneous anyway, as the thickness of the johnny doesn't mean it's any closer to your skin, which is the important factor in any Van der Waals interaction.
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  a graphene monolayer condom would be sort of like covering your penis in double-sided adhesive tape.

                  Soft silicon is often used for sex toys, and when very clean and dry they are also very sticky. As soon as you add a few drops of lubricant, that stickiness vanishes. I'd imagine that it would be the same with a graphene condom. Van der Waals forces don't have much range, so a few microns layering of Glycerin should make that a none issue.

                  Is there any reason why van der Waals forces would be any strong f
                  • by ashitaka (27544)

                    Thank you for your extremely well-informed comment. I'm sure we can rely on your expertise in the future should the subject of graphene condoms and sex toys in general arise.

                    By the way, this is Slashdot so how DID you acquire your intimate knowledge?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Cornflake917 (515940)

          I'm not a physicist or whatever engineer that deals with sharp edges of materials, but doesn't the material have to be hard (or have some other property) in order to pose a risk for cutting. For example when a piece of latex, the edges of broken part would be "sharp" (very thin) but since the material is flimsy it would bend before causing damage to other materials. I guess my point is there is a different between thin and sharp.

          • Paper is thin, flimsy, and will cut pretty bad.

            That's not to say a 1-atom-thick anything will cut, but just because it's thin and flimsy doesn't meant it's harmless. I do think you're on to something with the difference between thin and sharp...
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by EdIII (1114411) *

            You are right. There is difference between thin and sharp, at least in the context you are putting it in. In Geology it would not matter how thin the edge is of a rock. If it was lower on the Moh's scale than the other material, it would not cut it.

            As for the poster that mentioned paper, well the edge of piece of paper is probably harder than human skin.

            • If it was lower on the Moh's scale than the other material, it would not cut it.

              Since graphene is the sheet form of graphite, and graphite is less than one on the Moh's scale, cutting shouldn't be an issue. But if the graphene condom is made flawlessly, it should never break because it will be the strongest material ever made. [technologyreview.com]
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Hektor_Troy (262592)

              And thanks to the current thread subject, I just got the horrible thought of a long paper cut on my glans penis. Ouch!

            • by tsa (15680)

              As for the poster that mentioned paper, well the edge of piece of paper is probably harder than human skin.

              Auch!

              That's it, I will never use a paper condom again!

            • by jnnnnn (1079877)

              I think you're right -- paper is made from wood, so paper is probably about as hard as wood. When it is so thin, it bends easily, but that doesn't change its 'hardness'.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jgarra23 (1109651)


        That's not as daft as you might think, for many people the stated reason for not using condoms is lack of sensitivity caused by their thickness.

        Were there a way to reduce thickness to this extent, there would be a huge amount of money to be made.

        You're 100% right & I knew that as I posted- it's a common topic with me & gf since she (understandably) isn't too cool with hormone-based contraceptives.

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          I never quite understood how "the pill" got so popular to begin with. Messing with your hormones is not a good idea. When so many other good methods exist, it's a miracle that women actually want to take medication, and mess with their bodies, to prevent having kids.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Martin Blank (154261)

            For many women, it helps regulate what can be a very erratic menstrual cycle. Some women also experience a lightening of the cycle because the pill evens out their hormones. At the time, it was also by far the most effective method of birth control, as the proper use of the pill is much more common than proper use of condoms and even when it's not quite properly used, it's still much more effective than no condom at all.

          • And for some women, my guess is that taking medication and messing with hormones is worth it when compared to having kids.
          • by operagost (62405)
            Because condoms don't feel good and they break?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            I never quite understood how "the pill" got so popular to begin with. Messing with your hormones is not a good idea. When so many other good methods exist, it's a miracle that women actually want to take medication, and mess with their bodies, to prevent having kids.

            All methods have their issues:

            IUDs- near impossible to convince a doctor to give you unless you are married and have had children already (chance of damaging the uterus)

            Tubal ligation- Most doctors will not perform on a nulparous woman. Expensive.

            Diaphragms/caps/sponges- difficult to insert, messy (some require lots of spermicide), lack of spontaneity, not as effective as IUDs and hormonal BC

            Condoms- perceived loss of sensation, sometimes ill-fitting, chance of breakage, sensitivities to ingredient

          • by Usekh (557680)
            You know what else -really- messes with your hormones, and indeed your body. Pregnancy.

            The pill gives women direct control over their own fertility. It is relatively cheap and easy and effective, and non invasive. What else has all those attributes?
            • by CastrTroy (595695)
              How you you call something that messes with the completely natural cycle of the body to be non-invasive?
          • by carlzum (832868)
            I don't think the risks and side effects are explained well enough to women. When my wife was on ortho tri-cyclen she suffered from terrible migraines, but it took two years before a doctor attributed it to the pill. For some women, it's therapeutic and helps regulate their cycles. But from what I've seen, if a woman asks her doctor about contraception they usually walk out with some form of hormone prescribed. Unfortunately, alternatives like condoms, diaphragms, etc. are inconvenient and less effective. E
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            My mother was and still is an ardent feminist and among the early adopters of the Pill in Canada. Over the years, I have been able to learn her, and by extension other women's reasons for jumping on the Pill bandwagon so avidly.

            First, the Pill really hit it's stride in the late 60's when it seemed like chemistry had the answers to most of life's ills.* Doctors were prescribing incredible numbers of new medications for problems that used to be considered part of life's burdens. Stressed out trying to keep

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Urkki (668283)

              Of course, abstaining from sex is an ideal solution.

              No it's not, it's far from ideal. Abstaining from sex completely has a lot of side effects, including reduced pleasure in life, which can lead to higher stress levels or reduced happiness. Also it can lead to difficulties in having a healthy, stable relationship, which again can have negative social and emotional effects.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Gat0r30y (957941)
        Why wait? Just make your own! [technologyreview.com]

        One common technique is called the "Scotch tape method," in which a piece of tape is used to peel graphene flakes off of a chunk of graphite, which is essentially a stack of graphene sheets

        not sure how to make that into a functioning prophylactic, but the methods and materials to make graphene are readily available.

      • by poached (1123673)

        this balloon was used to contain gas, not liquid.

      • by tsa (15680)

        But because the one-atom-thick condom doesn't strech I see a few complications in putting it on, and also later when you... you know... when the volcano erupts, so to speak.

    • by DeadDecoy (877617) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:33PM (#24531471)
      At

      1 to 100 square micrometers in area and 250 nanometers to 3 micrometers deep

      I'm sure it'll be perfect for you.

    • this will be the thinnest condom ever!

      Ahh and being made of graphite, it will be perfect for guys with pencil dicks.. :-P

  • by peipas (809350) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:22PM (#24531303)

    Your girlfriend is skeptical you were ever wearing an "atom-thick condom" to begin with.

  • From TFA:

    using sticky tape to peel layers from a chunk of graphite.

    The author must have small kids, or eclectic tastes in television shows.

  • Terrifying, deadly amoebas floating around everywhere, waiting for you, hanging on tiny balloons.
  • Wait a minute (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BitterOldGUy (1330491)
    Gas did leak in or out over several days, but the researchers discovered that it was leaving through the glass, not the membranes.

    Ok, the membrane is one atom thick. Now said membrane is holding in a gas of atoms. Since atoms are mostly empty space, why doesn't the gas atoms pass through the membrane?

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Well, a chunk of steel is made of atoms, and when you start looking at the atoms, even a chunk of steel is mostly empty space. There's probably something to do with the polarity (I made that up) that keeps the air molecules from leaking through the membrane, kind of like how water and oil repel eachother.
      • by corsec67 (627446)

        There's probably something to do with the polarity (I made that up)

        And then bad things happen when the Polarity gets reversed.

        At least according to any buzzword-compliant Sci-Fi show.

    • Re:Wait a minute (Score:5, Informative)

      by jfengel (409917) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:38PM (#24531545) Homepage Journal

      Think of it this way: a lawnmower is mostly empty space. Care to stick your hand in one?

      In the Bohr model you can think of it as the electrons zipping around and eventually coming within the zone populated by the electrons in membrane. Remember, the electron has an area of influence considerably bigger than the electron itself. And the entire outer surface of an atom/molecule is coated with electrons in a cloud much larger than the n, so the net effect is of a negative charge (unless some electrons are missing, in which case you get chemical reactions). Those negative charges repel.

      What's actually going on is much weirder and more complex; the electron is kind of "smeared out" rather than zipping from place to place. But you get the gist.

  • Bubble Wrap (Score:5, Funny)

    by wideBlueSkies (618979) * on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:25PM (#24531355) Journal

    This is great, we now have the capacity to create bubble wrap, suitable for packing/protecting nanobots.

    Awesome stuff folks.

  • Impemeable to gases (Score:5, Informative)

    by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Friday August 08, 2008 @04:28PM (#24531419)

    The linked article claims the graphene is impermeable to gases, but didn't say exactly which gases. This article says that even the smallest gases can't get through, not even helium: http://www.photonics.com/content/news/2008/August/8/92805.aspx [photonics.com]

    • So as I understand it, one of the big issues with hydrogen as a fuel is that it leaks really easily...

      So we line the tank with this stuff and the H2 gas won't escape anywhere except the valve.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Plazmid (1132467)
        Heck, you could make the tank out of graphene. Graphene can stand incredible pressures, as graphene has a Young's modulus of 0.5 TPa. That's 0.5 TERAPASCALS.
      • by mdielmann (514750)

        I'm curious how hydrogen bonding would work with this. Graphene honeycomb materials may even be able to improve the density of compressed hydrogen, which would get us past one of the hurdles of using hydrogen gas. Of course, you also have to have a technique to release the gas, too.

      • If it doesn't leak at all, and weighs as little as it ought to, it's the ideal material for constructing dirigibles from. Not rigid enough for a vacuum dirigible, but a hydrogen dirigible would get a decent amount of lift and, if the hydrogen never needed replacing, be very cheap to operate (just compress and relax it like a fish's swim bladder to go up and down).
    • by Quantos (1327889)
      A quote from the article that you linked to states "They concluded that the graphene layer is essentially perfect and for all intents and purposes, impermeable to all standard gases." This should include any gasses that current processes can purify and isolate.
      • Well, yes, but I chose to paraphrase a different part of the article, since it emphasized the surprising impermeability to helium. Either way the conclusion is the same, and that information was not mentioned in the link in the /. summary.

        Perhaps "standard" was included to exclude gases that would react with graphene, as I suspect fluorine would.

  • ... just had a wet dream.
  • and suck out all the air (vaccuum) it should lift better than ANYTHING

      -- imagine not the lifting power of helium or hydrogen, but the lifting power of vaccuum...

    • ...............

      As it's quitting time, I really don't feel like explaining how very wrong that is. I'm sure someone else will.

      • As it's quitting time, I really don't feel like explaining how very wrong that is. I'm sure someone else will.

        Actually, he is completely right. Buoyancy comes from density differences, and nothing
        is less dense than a vacuum - so if you manage to enclose a notable volume of vacuum,
        this thing would be a great lifting body. Unfortunately, vacuum has a rather low intrinsic
        pressure (yes, that's an understatement... ;-), so there is nothing in there able to counteract the
        atmospheric pressure. And no material would be solid enough to be built around a vacuum. So such
        a "balloon" would just be crushed and never lift a

      • by EdIII (1114411) *

        Well please explain how it is wrong. I have always heard that it is correct, if not nearly impossible to achieve.

        As I understand it, the whole reason a helium filled balloon floats is that the weight of the helium and the balloon is less than the same volume of air it is displacing. Hence, it floats.

        If you were to continue taking out helium atoms of the balloon the difference in the weight would be greater, and the balloon would float "better". That is not normally possible though, since the balloon defl

        • It isn't that a vacuum-filled wouldn't be buoyant, it's that it'd be instantly crushed. As it has no mass, it has no ability to withstand the crushing pressure of the atmosphere. As far as I know, there is no material strong enough to withstand that pressure without weighing enough to negate any buoyancy.

          • Misplaced "balloon". I'm getting sloppy...

          • by EdIII (1114411) *

            Okay, so if the balloon was reinforced to the point it would not be crushed, it would work?

            In that case a balloon is probably not a good name. More like a reinforced sphere or something similar. According to the article the material is strong enough though to withstand the pressures while being light enough to not negate any buoyancy. Now I don't know how easily you could reinforce it with the same material without adding to much weight.

            It's interesting though. Thanks for the reply.

            • Okay, so if the balloon was reinforced to the point it would not be crushed, it would work?

              No, because then it'd be heavier than air. Unless you found some new reinforcing material that doesn't presently exist, at least. This stuff isn't rigid, so it would just collapse.

              • by EdIII (1114411) *

                No, because then it'd be heavier than air.

                You really did not answer my question at all. I asked if it was reinforced in such a way as to not add too much weight would it float if it maintained a vacuum. The only thing you just said was that it could not be done with current materials. With respect, you cannot answer a hypothetical question by saying the situation could not exist in the first place. That is why it is hypothetical.

                What I am really trying to get at it here, which is what the other poster wa

                • It would. We can't make such a container, but in the hypothetical situation where we could, it would float.

        • Something along the lines of, when you make the balloon strong enough to contain vacuum without collapsing, you've made it too heavy. The average density of the entire balloon including the surface and whatever reinforcements you have is now greater than that of the atmosphere.

          Such a balloon could work given a thin enough atmosphere though.
    • by Plazmid (1132467)
      Regardless of whether you really could fill a balloon with vacuum, a balloon made of graphene would still have some pretty awesome lifting power, because graphene weighs a lot less. BTW, a balloon made of single graphene sheet might be considered a buckyball.
  • The article doesn't say. Did they control the pressure in those little pits with temperature, I wonder?
  • ... how much water [wikipedia.org] you can get into one of them.

  • was about Alan Thicke, not atom thick.
  • All right, clever people of Slashdot, answer me this:

    If instead of making a balloon out of this atom-thick material you simply made a large sheet (say, the size of a sheet of A4 paper) could a person fold this super-thin sheet in half more than twelve times? That's the current record [pomonahistorical.org], shattering the previously accepted limit of eight folds [queensu.ca].*

    * Regarding the latter link: I know. (Ouch! My eyes!)

  • It's something I was thinking about a long time ago.

    If you could make a spherical geodesic frame out of carbon fiber, or some other super strong and light composite. Then you stretch a lightweight gasproof skin over it and extract the air through a valve. If a vacuum ballon with a 2 meter diameter could be made that weighed less than 5kg, it would float on air. The materials to do this weren't available before, but graphene might change that.

    I dunno exactly what use it would be, but I'm sure the Vatican cou

    • Carbon fiber and this atom-thick graphene are good under tension but they will collapse under compression. You wouldn't be able to put a vacuum inside any such contraption because the atmosphere outside would crush it.

  • Imagine a few thousand of these balloons being sucked into the engines of a microscopic space fleet. We win!

  • Researchers are moving into the next phase of their work with the aquisition of a tank of helium, a lawn chair and a pellet gun.
  • From TFA: "mechanical exfoliation" - using sticky tape to peel layers from a chunk of graphite.

    I used to work in micromechanics, which was all about clean rooms and keeping things dust-free. Now I work in nanotechnology, and I see and use a lot of things like mentioned above. Nanotechnology works with things that are so small you often don't need a clean room anymore. Counterintuitive, but true.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @05:48AM (#24536053) Journal

    Am I the only one to instantly think upon seeing this article that this may be the perfect Solar Sail material? IF they can make this on a LARGE scale (meters or kilometers square), it has got to have close to the lowest weight to surface area ratio of any possible material. Even if it is not reflective ("carbon black"?), it would still work by adsorbing photons (it would still gain momentum). Heating may be a problem but it should also radiate heat equally well.

    Micrometeorites and high energy particles would surely put many nano-micro sized holes in it but that should only decrease the efficiency slightly. The overall structure should stay intact even with many many holes because of the immense tensile strength; the article said it could handle several atmosphere's of pressure.

    So could this be the ultimate solar sail material (perhaps with a spray on coating of aluminum atoms if the reflectivity is worth the added weight)? With a rigging of carbon nano-tubes it makes theoretical solar sail designs so efficient that perhaps interstellar journeys are practical!

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