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Grad students win nanotechnology image contest

What looks like a yellow leaf with stripes appears in graphene.

This nano image, titled “Graphene Shows its Stripes,” by Ben Davis and Ryan Hines won the NNCO EnvisioNano image contest. Photo courtesy of Matt Maschmann.

Take the right nanoscale image, add a splash of color, and turn science into a work of art.

That’s exactly what Ben Davis and Ryan Hines, graduate students in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, did. The duo won the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office’s EnvisioNano student nanotechnology image contest.

Hines and Davis pose in front of Lafferre Hall's Overholser Atrium.

Ryan Hines, left, and Ben Davis, right, won the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office’s EnvisioNano student nanotechnology image contest.

Davis and Hines, members of Assistant Professor Matt Maschmann’s lab, won for an image called “Graphene Shows its Stripes.”

“We used a scanning electron microscope to take the image,” Hines said. “There were multiple images from that one sample, but that image grabbed our attention because it looks like tiger stripes. Dr. Maschmann loved it because he’s very into school spirit, so we colored it with MU Gold.”

The pattern formed during the duo’s work studying the mechanical properties of graphene, which has mechanical, thermal and electrical properties that often out-perform more typical engineering materials.

“Normally the carbon bonds will form to just one sheet or multiple layers, and sometimes they ripple while being formed, and I think that rippling created that tiger stripe look,” Hines said.

“The synthesis process is called chemical vapor deposition,” Davis added. “The graphene grows on the surface of a copper foil substrate. The copper expands at high temperature then is quickly cooled and contracts, more so than the graphene. That’s what we think caused the ripple effect.”

Of all the images entered, only the top three as chosen by a public vote advanced to the semifinals. Maschmann suggested that Davis and Hines enter the competition, and they selected a pair of images because they weren’t sure exactly what would catch on. They then went to work getting family and friends to vote early and often.

“Emailing it to friends, calling family members and talking about it, all that,” Davis said.

Judges from member agencies of the National Nanotechnology Initiative chose the winner, and the image was displayed on for a month following the competition. The nanoscience research news website also announced their victory.