A ceramic that becomes more electrically conductive under elastic strain and less conductive under plastic strain could lead to a new generation of sensors embedded into structures such as buildings, bridges and aircraft, lending them the ability to monitor their own health. The electrical disparity fostered by the two types of strains was not obvious until researchers modeled a novel, 2D compound: graphene-boron-nitride (GBN). Under elastic strain, the internal structure of a material stretched like a rubber band does not change. But the same material under plastic strain -- caused in this case by stretching it far enough beyond elasticity to deform -- distorts its crystalline lattice. GBN, it turns out, shows different electrical properties in each case, making it a worthy candidate as a structural sensor. The magic lies in the ability of 2D, carbon-based graphene and white graphene to bond with each other in a variety of ways, depending on their relative concentrations. Though graphene and white graphene naturally avoid water, causing them to clump, the combined nanosheets easily disperse in a slurry during the ceramic's manufacture.
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