Art of Science – Graphene Origami

Graphene Origami Oliver Payton Oct 2015 Winner Art of Science

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.


Our october winner is “Graphene Origami” by Dr Oliver Payton from the Department of Engineering Mathematics.

As materials go, graphene is something of a celebrity at the moment – and perhaps rightly so. It’s a carbon sheet just one atom thick, but graphene is stronger than steel, better than silver at conducting electricity and better than diamond at conducting heat. Applications for graphene currently in development include radioactive waste disposal, phone touchscreens and condoms.

But what would something one atom thick actually look like? The image below shows a real sheet of graphene. Each edge is just four millions of a metre long.

Graphene Origami_OliverPayton Oct

This incredible image was captured by the fasted atomic force microscope in the world, which Oliver himself helped build.

Atomic force microscopy uses a very precise cantilever that scans over a surface, rather like a tiny record-player head reading the grooves of a vinyl disc. The atoms in the cantilever and the surface being scanned get so incredibly close that atomic forces between the two can be detected and measured – hence the name of the technique.

Oliver said “The Microscope scans the graphene surface thousands of times each second with a sharp probe to build up a 3D model of the surface. This image was taken in 0.1 s and shows an area 4×4 microns. The graphene sheet rucks up like a cloth at the edges giving a macro feel to this nanoscale surface.

Take that, Tracey Emin!

Next month’s image is a micro-yacht …


The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived divide between art and science, showing images which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judges’ vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Graphene Origami won 3rd prize in the Judges’ vote. Image used with permission. 

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