Optical properties of graphene-based materials in transparent polymer matrices

Different aspects of graphene-based materials (GBMs) and GBM-nanocomposites have been investigated due to their intriguing features; one of these features is their transparency. Transparency of GBMs has been of an interest to scientists and engineers mainly with regard to electronic devices. In this study, optical transmittance of structural, purpose-made nanocomposites reinforced with GBMs was analyzed to lay a foundation for optical microstructural characterization of nanocomposites in future studies. Two main types of GBM reinforcements were studied, graphene oxide (GO) and graphite nanoplates (GNPs). The nanocomposites investigated are GO/poly(vinyl alcohol), GO/sodium alginate, and GNP/epoxy with different volume fractions of GBMs. Together with UV-visible spectrophotometry, image-processing-assisted micro and macro photography were used to assess the transparency of GBMs embedded in the matrices. The micro and macro photography methods developed were proven to be an alternative way of measuring light transmittance of semi-transparent materials. It was found that there existed a linear relationship between light absorbance and a volume fraction of GBMs embedded in the same type of polymer matrices, provided that the nanocomposites of interest had the same thicknesses. This suggests that the GBM dispersion characteristics in the same type of polymer are similar and any possible change in crystal structure of polymer due to different volumetric contents of GBM does not have an effect on light transmittance of the matrices. The study also showed that the same types of GBMs could display different optical properties in different matrix materials. The results of this study will help to develop practical microstructural characterization techniques for GBM-based nanocomposites.