‘Hulk-like’ material thrives in harsh conditions

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Tobias Vogl. Photo: Lannon Harley, ANU

NOT only can a number of 2D materials withstand being sent into space but the same materials can also potentially thrive in harsh conditions, according to a new study from ANU. 

While these findings mean future space missions could be more accessible and cheaper to launch, PhD candidate and lead author Tobias Vogl was particularly interested in whether the 2D materials could withstand intense radiation.

“The space environment is obviously very different to what we have here on Earth. So we exposed a variety of 2D materials to radiation levels comparable to what we expect in space,” Mr Vogl says.

“We found most of these devices coped really well. We were looking at electrical and optical properties and basically didn’t see much difference at all.”

The ANU team carried out a number of simulations to model space environments for potential orbits. This was used to expose 2D materials to the expected radiation levels. During a satellite’s orbit around the earth, it is subject to heating, cooling and radiation. They found one material actually improved when subjected to intense gamma radiation.

“A material getting stronger after irradiation with gamma rays – it reminds me of the hulk,” Mr Vogl says.

“We’re talking about radiation levels above what we would see in space – but we actually saw the material become better, or brighter.”

Mr Vogl says this specific material could potentially be used to detect radiation levels onboard satellites in other harsh environments, like near nuclear reactor sites.

“The applications of these 2D materials will be quite versatile, from satellite structures reinforced with graphene – which is five-times stiffer than steel – to lighter and more efficient solar cells, which will help when it comes to actually getting the experiment into space,” he says.

Mr Vogl says among the tested devices were atomically thin transistors. Transistors are a crucial component for every electronic circuit. The study also tested quantum light sources, which could be used to form what Mr Vogl describes as the “backbone” of the future quantum internet.

“They could be used for satellite-based long-distance quantum cryptography networks. This quantum internet would be hacking proof, which is more important than ever in this age of rising cyberattacks and data breaches,” he says.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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