Mechanism of Metal Intercalation under Graphene through Small Vacancy Defects

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2021-03-22
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Liu, Xiaojie
Wang, Cai-Zhuang
Han, Yong
Evans, James
Lii-Rosales, Ann
Thiel, Patricia
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Evans, James
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Ames National Laboratory

Ames National Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), operated by and located on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

For more than 70 years, the Ames National Laboratory has successfully partnered with Iowa State University, and is unique among the 17 DOE laboratories in that it is physically located on the campus of a major research university. Many of the scientists and administrators at the Laboratory also hold faculty positions at the University and the Laboratory has access to both undergraduate and graduate student talent.

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Physics and astronomy are basic natural sciences which attempt to describe and provide an understanding of both our world and our universe. Physics serves as the underpinning of many different disciplines including the other natural sciences and technological areas.
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Materials Science and Engineering
Materials engineers create new materials and improve existing materials. Everything is limited by the materials that are used to produce it. Materials engineers understand the relationship between the properties of a material and its internal structure — from the macro level down to the atomic level. The better the materials, the better the end result — it’s as simple as that.
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Abstract

Metal intercalation under graphene has attracted extensive experimental and theoretical research because of its capability to manipulate the electronic structure and properties of graphene. However, the pathways and mechanisms of intercalation are still not well understood. Here, we systematically investigate the intercalation process of metal atoms through graphene vacancies using first-principles calculations. We show that the energy barrier for metal atom penetration through the vacancies in graphene is small as long as the size of the vacancy is larger than a mono-vacancy. However, metal atoms are strongly bonded to the vacancy so that the detachment energy of a metal atom from the vacancy is extremely high. This inhibits the diffusion of the metal atom into the gallery beneath the surface to complete the intercalation process. On the other hand, our calculation results show that the detachment energy of a metal atom from a metal dimer at small vacancy defects is significantly reduced, making intercalation much easier. Therefore, the key step limiting the intercalation process is the detachment of the metal atoms from vacancy defects. This finding from our study provides useful insight into the defect-assisted intercalation mechanism.

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