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Hexagonalboron nitride has a structural similarity to graphene. It is composed of a planar network of atoms interconnected in hexagons. The only difference between graphene and H-BN is that all atoms in graphene are carbon. In H-BN, every hexagon contains three nitrogen and three boron molecules.
Graphene has a stronger carbon-carbon bond than H-BN. Both the strength and elastic modulus of both materials are comparable, although h-BN is slightly less: graphene has an strength of 130GPa and young’s modulus about 1.0TPa. Meanwhile, H-BN has a strength and modulus respectively of 100GPa (and 0.8 TPA).
Graphene is not only strong in mechanical properties but it also has low crack resistance which makes graphene brittle.
British engineer Griffiths published in 1921 a theory on fracture mechanics. This study described the failures of brittle materials as well as the relationship between the size cracks and the force necessary to make them grow. Engineers and scientists have used this theory for hundreds of decades to predict and determine the toughness of materials.
In 2014, Professor Jun Lou and his Rice University team discovered that graphene has a high degree of fracture toughness. The study showed that when graphene’s stress exceeds the force keeping it together, cracks will propagate.
Due to its structural similarity with graphene H-bn could also be considered to be vulnerable. But this is not true.
H-BN is 10x more ductile that graphene, according to scientists.
Professor Jun Lou, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Prof. Hua Jian gao from Rice University found that HBN, a brittle material, is 10 times stronger than graphene when it comes to cracking resistance. This discovery is in direct contradiction to Griffith’s fracture theory. Such anomalies have never before been observed in two-dimensional materials. The Nature article entitled “Intrinsic Toughening in Hexagonal Boron Nitride” published the related research results.
Mechanism of H-BN’s Extraordinary Strength
The team applied stress on the HBN sample using scanning electron microscopes, transmission electron microscopes, and other tools to discover the cause. The mystery was solved after over 1,000 hours of experiments, theoretical analysis and further research.
H-Bn graphene and graphene are structurally identical, but the boron atoms and nitrogen atoms differ. HBN also has an asymmetric arrangement in hexagonal lattice. This is in contrast to graphene’s carbon hexagon. Graphene’s cracks tend to penetrate the symmetrical hexagonal structure, opening the bond like an open zipper. H-BN has a hexagonal structure that is slightly asymmetric, due to the stress contrast of boron with nitrogen. Because of this, cracks can bifurcate and form branches.
The crack that splits means it’s turning. To make the crack harder to propagate, this steering crack needs additional energy. H-Bn is more elastic than graphene.
H-BN’s excellent heat resistance and chemical stability have made it an important material for two-dimensional electronic devices and other 2-bit devices. hBN’s toughness makes them an ideal choice for flexible electronic. This is also important for the development and use of flexible 2D materials in two-dimensional electronics.
In the future, in addition to being used for flexible electronic textiles (h-BN), hBN could also be used to make implantable electronics and flexible electronic skin that can be connected directly with the brain.
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