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Molecular Resolution in situ Imaging of Spontaneous Graphene Exfoliation

Elbourne, A.; McLean, B.; Voïtchovsky, K.; Warr, G.G.; Atkin, R.

Molecular Resolution in situ Imaging of Spontaneous Graphene Exfoliation Thumbnail


A. Elbourne

B. McLean

G.G. Warr

R. Atkin


All reported methods of graphene exfoliation require external energy input, most commonly from sonication,1 shaking,2 or stirring.3 The reverse process—aggregation of single or few layer graphene sheets—occurs spontaneously in most solvents. This makes producing, and especially storing, graphene in economic quantities challenging,4,5 which is a significant barrier to widespread commercialization. This study reveals ionic liquids (ILs) can spontaneously exfoliate graphene from graphite at room temperature. The process is thermally activated and follows an Arrhenius-type behavior, resulting in thermodynamically stable IL/graphene suspensions. Using atomic force microscopy, the kinetics of the exfoliation could be followed in situ and with subnanometer resolution, showing that both the size and the charge of the constituent IL ions play a key role. Our results provide a general molecular mechanism underpinning spontaneous graphene exfoliation at room temperature in electrically conducting ILs, paving the way for their adoption in graphene-based technology.


Elbourne, A., McLean, B., Voïtchovsky, K., Warr, G., & Atkin, R. (2016). Molecular Resolution in situ Imaging of Spontaneous Graphene Exfoliation. Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, 7(16), 3118-3122.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 27, 2016
Online Publication Date Jul 27, 2016
Publication Date Aug 18, 2016
Deposit Date Jan 27, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jul 27, 2017
Journal Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters
Publisher American Chemical Society
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 16
Pages 3118-3122


Accepted Journal Article (2.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This document is the Accepted Manuscript version of a Published Work that appeared in final form in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, copyright © American Chemical Society after peer review and technical editing by the publisher. To access the final edited and published work see

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