Copying plants to improve flexible electronics

Mimicking the structure of the ‘powdery alligator-flag’ plant has enabled researchers from Zhejiang University, China, to make a graphene-based aerogel that could be used to create flexible electronics, such as bendable tablets and wearable sensors.

The stem of the Thalia dealbata – or powdery alligator-flag – plant is a naturally porous material that is lightweight, strong, and resilient, owing to its architecture with 3D interconnected lamellar layers.

The researchers assembled graphene oxide sheets into a similar architecture using a bidirectional freezing technique. Subsequent freeze-drying and thermal reduction resulted in graphene aerogels with highly tunable 3D architectures.

When tested, the material supported 6000 times its own weight and maintained its strength after intensive compression trials.

The research team also added the aerogel to a circuit with an LED and found it could work as a component of a flexible device.

With the additional electrical conductivity, the graphene aerogels are potentially useful for mechanically switchable electronics.