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Giant photoeffect in proton transport through graphene membranes


Graphene has recently been shown to be permeable to thermal protons1, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms, which sparked interest in its use as a proton-conducting membrane in relevant technologies1,2,3,4. However, the influence of light on proton permeation remains unknown. Here we report that proton transport through Pt-nanoparticle-decorated graphene can be enhanced strongly by illuminating it with visible light. Using electrical measurements and mass spectrometry, we find a photoresponsivity of 104 A W−1, which translates into a gain of 104 protons per photon with response times in the microsecond range. These characteristics are competitive with those of state-of-the-art photodetectors that are based on electron transport using silicon and novel two-dimensional materials5,6,7. The photo–proton effect could be important for graphene’s envisaged use in fuel cells and hydrogen isotope separation. Our observations may also be of interest for other applications such as light-induced water splitting, photocatalysis and novel photodetectors.

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Fig. 1: Influence of illumination on proton transport through graphene activated with Pt nanoparticles.
Fig. 2: Photo–proton effect observed by mass spectrometry and microsecond time response.


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The authors acknowledge support from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, EPSRC (EP/N010345/1), the European Research Council ARTIMATTER project (ERC-2012-ADG) and from Graphene Flagship. M.L.-H. acknowledges a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship.

Author information




A.K.G. and M.L.-H. designed and directed the project. M.L.-H. fabricated devices, performed measurements and carried out data analysis with help from S.Z. and A.B. M.L.-H. and A.K.G. wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed to discussions.

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Correspondence to Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo or Andre K. Geim.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Text and Supplementary Figures 1–4.

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Lozada-Hidalgo, M., Zhang, S., Hu, S. et al. Giant photoeffect in proton transport through graphene membranes. Nature Nanotech 13, 300–303 (2018).

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