Between the Sheets: In reactors and nanotubes, errant atoms get a grip

9:34am, April 16, 2003

Reach out and touch each other. That's something that carbon atoms in adjoining layers within graphite aren't supposed to do–even in the cores of nuclear reactors where graphite blocks take a beating from neutron radiation.

New atomic-level simulations in England challenge that expectation. The findings, if confirmed, may revise not only the way that specialists handle spent nuclear-reactor cores but also how technologists build novel, nanometer-scale carbon structures.

Graphite has a crystal structure consisting of many one-atom-thick carbon sheets known as graphene. The spacing between sheets is more than twice that between atoms within the sheets, so the forces between sheets are extremely weak.

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