An historic artwork type obtained a brand new twist from this Drexel engineering pupil, 7,000 miles from his house in China

Teng Zhang, a Drexel Ph.D. pupil in supplies science and engineering, writes with ink that he produced from high-tech supplies known as MXenes. Learn extra

Drexel College engineering pupil Teng Zhang took up Chinese language calligraphy not too long ago, looking for a reference to members of the family in China whom he has not seen since earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic.

However as typically occurs with starting calligraphers, he struggled when utilizing diluted, lighter-hued inks, watching in dismay as the colours bled via his porous, gossamer-thin paper.

The answer to Zhang’s blurry brushstrokes, he realized, lay in engineering. With Lunar New Yr approaching, the Ph.D. pupil tried in December to make ink utilizing tiny flakes of a high-tech, metallic materials that his boss, Drexel professor Yury Gogotsi, had invented a decade earlier.

Bingo. The inks Zhang produced from these supplies, known as MXenes, produced strokes with razor-sharp edges — a contemporary twist on an artwork type that’s hundreds of years previous.


“Persons are all the time making an attempt to explain what’s custom,” he mentioned. “We’re creating a brand new custom for the longer term.”

Like papier-mâché

Gogotsi invented MXenes (pronounced maxenes) with Drexel colleague Michel Barsoum in 2011, naming them for a metallic part M, comparable to titanium, and a secondary factor X, comparable to carbon. He now has greater than 40 researchers, together with Zhang, busily creating new makes use of for the supplies in his lab on Chestnut Avenue.

Commercialization continues to be within the early phases, however thus far MXenes have proven promise in making energy-storage units known as capacitors, skinny movies for shielding telephones and different digital units from interference, and inks for printing versatile digital circuits, based on an October evaluate in Nature Nanotechnology.

These purposes are attainable as a result of MXenes conduct electrical energy.

When Zhang makes use of MXenes to make calligraphy ink, alternatively, he prizes them for a special property. Blended in water, the skinny flakes of metallic materials stick to one another like sheets of paper in papier-mâché, leading to ink that holds a pleasant, tight line — even when diluted to make delicate shades of gray.

In a lab full of high-tech gear, the calligraphy ink is, by far, the lowest-tech software. However Gogotsi, director of the A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, is delighted.

“It’s essential for science, creating creativity,” he says. “Artwork and science are associated.”

‘Feeling the sweetness’

Rising up within the metropolis of Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province in japanese China, Zhang was extra in martial arts than in calligraphy, regardless of the urging of his father, a talented practitioner of the normal artwork type.

But in November, in search of a option to cross the time exterior of labor, he determined to present calligraphy one other attempt.

Zhang bought a bottle of conventional Chinese language ink, fabricated from the black residue from burning the oil or resin from a pine tree, and began working towards the sleek strokes. However when he diluted the ink to make numerous shades of grey, his brushstrokes had fuzzy edges.

Then he remembered a curious element from the lab. Each time he wiped up small spills of MXene-based fluids, the darkish blotches didn’t bleed on his paper towel, as an alternative forming a decent circle. Why not attempt it as a calligraphy ink?

Positive sufficient, when Zhang dipped his brush into the liquid, he produced Chinese language characters with razor-sharp edges. What’s extra, the ink dried with a gorgeous metallic sheen.

“I’m feeling the great thing about the artwork,” he mentioned.

In the future not too long ago within the lab, Zhang unfold out a large sheet of white paper on a countertop to show his newfound craft. With deft strokes, he wrote to a good friend about how they need to get collectively for a drink on a chilly, wintry night.

Might his discovery symbolize a brand new industrial alternative? Onerous to say, as many Chinese language calligraphers are wedded to custom, Zhang mentioned. Nonetheless, when he despatched an image of his handiwork to his members of the family, they known as it “very fascinating,” he mentioned.

For the second, MXenes are drawing extra consideration for his or her potential in numerous high-tech purposes.

Sure formulations are being examined in sensors to measure human important indicators, both embedded in practical materials or printed immediately on the pores and skin. The high-tech substances additionally can be utilized to defend an individual’s pockets or cellphone from digital snooping. Nonetheless different varieties of MXenes are being examined in materials that might render the wearer invisible to infrared night-vision goggles, Gogotsi mentioned. The Drexel professor mentioned he’s discussing that potential with representatives from the U.S. navy.

Zhang and his lab mates contribute by analyzing {the electrical} properties of the supplies and testing methods to tweak them.

He additionally plans to maintain utilizing MXene-based ink for his new pastime, which helps him really feel nearer to members of the family 7,000 miles away.

“It got here out of my coronary heart spontaneously,” he mentioned. “I really feel a connection to the household the place I got here from.”