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Boffins make graphene micro-distillery

Wonder stuff cooked up super-strength vodka

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Graphene-creating boffins have discovered a new purpose for the wonder material - a teeny-tiny distillery.

A team led by one of the Nobel prize-winning scientists who first made the world's thinnest and strongest material have now found out that graphene can stop air and other gases, but it lets water right through.

Naturally, they tested this by super-distilling vodka with graphene membranes.

"Just for a laugh, we sealed a bottle of vodka with our membranes and found that the distilled solution became stronger and stronger with time," co-author Rahul Nair told the Press Association. "Neither of us drinks vodka but it was great fun to do the experiment."

Andre Geim, the University of Manchester prof and one of the pair of graphene-creators, won the Noble prize for physics for the work.

He and his team worked with membranes made from graphene oxide and showed that they held back all gases and liquid apart from water, which evaporates through it so fast, it may as well not be there.

The membranes even shut out helium, which is a difficult gas to restrain.

"Helium gas is hard to stop," said Geim. "It slowly leaks even through a millimetre-thick window glass but our ultra-thin films completely block it. At the same time, water evaporates through them unimpeded. Materials cannot behave any stranger."

Apart from the teeny-tiny distillery mentioned, the boffins aren't really sure what this discovery might lead to, although it does add to the growing list of cool things that graphene can do.

As well as being the thinnest and strongest material known, it also conducts heat and electricity better than any other stuff. It's being hailed as the answer to almost all tech problems, from storage to batteries and flexible touchscreens to futuristic aeroplanes.

The research was published in Science here. ®

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