Graphene nanoresonators could make very sensitive chemical detectors or accelerometers. The suspended graphene films respond dramatically when any weight is added—even just a molecule or an atom. “It couples very strongly to the outside world,” which makes for a good sensor, says McEuen.
Rod Ruoff, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who pioneered the graphene growth-and-transfer technique used by the Cornell group, says this work demonstrates that this type of graphene performs well in nanomechanical systems. But Ruoff says he sees room for improvement in the performance of the resonators.
The Cornell researchers are now working to push the graphene resonators to their ultimate performance limits. The crystalline structure of graphene, which determines its strength and electrical conductivity, is not perfect in the Cornell devices made so far.
The researchers also hope to take advantage of quantum effects that occur at the nanoscale. This could improve their sensitivity, McEuen says.