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Pliable carbon

Researchers have made graphene paper. Graphene is the net of carbon atoms, reminiscent of chicken wire, that forms graphite and carbon nanotubes.

In graphite, electrostatic forces make graphene layers cling together and form microscopic stacks, says Rodney Ruoff, a physical chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Different stacks don't stick together well, which is why pencil lead is soft. But a graphene layer itself is one of the strongest materials in nature, Ruoff says.

Ruoff's team sought to take the layers apart and reassemble them in a new way. The researchers oxidized graphite and shook it in water, producing a suspension of graphene fragments up to 1 micron wide in which about every other carbon atom was strongly bonded to an oxygen atom.

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