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Graphene Membranes: Atomically Thin Balloons

Membranes are fundamental components of a wide variety of physical, chemical, and biological systems. They divide space into two regions, each capable of possessing different physical or chemical properties. A simple example is the stretched surface of a balloon, where a pressure difference across the balloon is balanced by the surface tension in the membrane. The thinnest imaginable balloon would be one atom thick. Cornell researchers have shown that one-atom-thick graphene membranes act like a nano-balloon. In spite of their thinness, they are impermeable to gases and can support pressure differences larger than one atmosphere. Such pressure differences cause the membranes to bend like the surface of a balloon, as shown in the figure. Single-atom-thick membranes offer great promise for certain types of microscopy that can peer through the membrane into the trapped region.  J. S. Bunch, S. S. Verbridge, J. S. Alden, A. van der Zande, J. M. Parpia, H. G. Craighead, P. L. McEuen,