Advanced Materials 1

Synthesis of Graphene/Polymer Nanocomposite Materials

Prof Per B. Zetterlund
Dr Stuart C Thickett


Schematic illustration of modification of graphene with polymer brushes

The material graphene was discovered in 2004 (Noble Prize awarded in 2010) – it is the strongest material ever measured, and this is accompanied by a range of other extraordinary physical properties such as high thermal conductivity and high electrical conductivity. Graphene is seen as the material of the future, with the potential to revolutionize a wide range of industries from electronics to healthcare, and there is currently immense worldwide research activity in this area. We are interested in preparing novel polymeric nanocomposite materials with superior physical properties using graphene and graphene oxide.

The addition of graphene as a component of polymer nanocomposites results in superior material properties over the more common fillers such as carbon black. In order to fulfill the potential of such nanocomposites, a high degree of dispersion of graphene as individual two-dimensional sheets in the polymer matrix is essential. However, both pristine graphene and graphene oxide are incompatible with most hydrophobic polymers, and do not form homogeneous polymer composites. We specifically address these issues by employing various techniques involving (controlled/living) radical polymerization in aqueous dispersed systems for synthesis of polymer/graphene nanocomposite materials. The key in our approach is to exploit the amphiphilic properties of graphene oxide – it can behave as a surfactant in aqueous emulsions of oil (vinyl monomer) under suitable conditions. We thus conduct various types of dispersed phase polymerizations (emulsion, miniemulsion) using graphene oxide as surfactant, thereby accessing a novel route to graphene/polymer nanocomposite materials.


Schematic illustration of the use of graphene oxide as surfactant in miniemulsion polymerization for synthesis of hybrid nanoparticles



• Preparation of Composite Materials by Using Graphene Oxide as a Surfactant in Ab Initio Emulsion Polymerization Systems, S. C. Thickett, P. B. Zetterlund, ACS Macro Letters 2013, 2, 630-634.
• Functionalization of Graphene Oxide for the Production of Novel Graphene-Based Polymeric and Colloidal Materials, S. C. Thickett, P. B. Zetterlund, Current Org. Chem. 2013, 17, 956-974.
• Synthesis of Polystyrene Nanoparticles “Armoured” with Nano-dimensional Graphene Oxide Sheets by Miniemulsion Polymerization, S. H. Che Man, S. C. Thickett, M. R. Whittaker, and P. B. Zetterlund, J. Polym. Sci.: Part A: Polym. Chem. 2013, 51, 47-58.