Macroscopic and direct light propulsion of bulk graphene material


It has been a great challenge to achieve the direct light manipulation of matter on a bulk scale. In this work the direct light propulsion of matter is observed on a macroscopic scale using a bulk graphene-based material. The unique structure and properties of graphene, and the novel morphology of the bulk three-dimensional linked graphene material make it capable not only of absorbing light at various wavelengths but also of emitting energetic electrons efficiently enough to drive the bulk material, following Newtonian mechanics. Thus, the unique photonic and electronic properties of individual graphene sheets are manifested in the response of the bulk state. These results offer an exciting opportunity to bring about bulk-scale light manipulation with the potential to realize long-sought applications in areas such as the solar sail and space transportation driven directly by sunlight.

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Figure 1: Measurement apparatus and schematics of light-induced propulsion and rotation of graphene sponge.
Figure 2: Relationships between laser-induced propulsion/rotation of graphene sponge and laser wavelength and power density.
Figure 3: Schematic diagrams of the proposed mechanism.
Figure 4: Measurement of electron emission from the graphene sponge under laser illumination.


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The authors acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (MoST, grants 2012CB933401 and 2014CB643502), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC, grants 91433101, 21374050 and 51273093) and the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University (PCSIRT, IRT1257). The authors thank Z. Li (Tsinghua University) for help with X-ray photoelectron spectroscope and X. Kong (Nankai University) and H. Li (Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences) for mass spectrum measurements.

Author information




Y.C. conceived and directed the study. T.Z. and H.C. carried out most of the experiments and data analysis. Y.W. carried out some initial experiments. T.Z. and Y.C., together with H.C., prepared most of the manuscipt. H.C. synthesized most of the samples and prepared the movies. Y.W., P.X., N.Y. and Y.L. participated in some experiments, data analysis and discussions. K.Z., X.Y. and Z.L. participated in current measurements. All authors participated in project discussions and production of the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yongsheng Chen.

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A Chinese patent based on this work has been filed (application no. CN2014105392945).

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Zhang, T., Chang, H., Wu, Y. et al. Macroscopic and direct light propulsion of bulk graphene material. Nature Photon 9, 471–476 (2015).

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