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Acc Chem Res. 2013 Jan 15;46(1):97-105. doi: 10.1021/ar300117m. Epub 2012 Oct 16.

Graphene as a prototype crystalline membrane.

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Institute for Molecules and Materials, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The understanding of the structural and thermal properties of membranes, low-dimensional flexible systems in a space of higher dimension, is pursued in many fields from string theory to chemistry and biology. The case of a two-dimensional (2D) membrane in three dimensions is the relevant one for dealing with real materials. Traditionally, membranes are primarily discussed in the context of biological membranes and soft matter in general. The complexity of these systems hindered a realistic description of their interatomic structures based on a truly microscopic approach. Therefore, theories of membranes were developed mostly within phenomenological models. From the point of view of statistical mechanics, membranes at finite temperature are systems governed by interacting long-range fluctuations. Graphene, the first truly two-dimensional system consisting of just one layer of carbon atoms, provides a model system for the development of a microscopic description of membranes. In the same way that geneticists have used Drosophila as a gateway to probe more complex questions, theoretical chemists and physicists can use graphene as a simple model membrane to study both phenomenological theories and experiments. In this Account, we review key results in the microscopic theory of structural and thermal properties of graphene and compare them with the predictions of phenomenological theories. The two approaches are in good agreement for the various scaling properties of correlation functions of atomic displacements. However, some other properties, such as the temperature dependence of the bending rigidity, cannot be understood based on phenomenological approaches. We also consider graphene at very high temperature and compare the results with existing models for two-dimensional melting. The melting of graphene presents a different scenario, and we describe that process as the decomposition of the graphene layer into entangled carbon chains.

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