Tunable green graphene-silk biomaterials: Mechanism of protein-based nanocomposites

Fang Wang, S. S. Jyothirmayee Aravind, Hao Wu, Joseph Forys, Venkat Venkataraman, Kandalam Ramanujachary, Xiao Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Green graphene materials prepared by photoreduction of graphite oxide were first time blended with aqueous-based silk fibroin proteins to improve the mechanical and thermal properties of silk biomaterials, and their nanocomposite interaction mechanism was illustrated. Powder X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis confirmed the complete exfoliation of graphite oxide to graphene in presence of focused pulses of solar radiation. By varying the concentration of graphene (0.1 wt% to 10 wt%), a series of free standing graphene-silk films were prepared and were systematically characterized by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and nanoindentation measurements. The homogeneity of graphene in silk as well as the thermal stability of the composite films was demonstrated by thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) and temperature-modulated differential scanning calorimetry (TMDSC). Surprisingly, silk composite film containing only 0.5 wt% of graphene gives the highest Young's modulus of 1.65 GPa (about 5.8 times higher than the pure silk's modulus), indicating a nano-composite to micro-composite transition of silk-graphene structure occurred around this mixing ratio. This finding provided an easy approach to improve the elastic modulus and other physical properties of silk materials by adding a tiny amount of graphene sheets. Fibroblast cells studies also proved that these graphene-silk materials can significantly improve cell adhesion, growth and proliferation. This protein nanocomposite study provided a useful model to understand how to manipulate the hydrophobic-hydrophobic and polar-polar interactions between high-surface-area inorganic nanomaterials and amphiphilic protein materials, which has many emerging applications in the material science and engineering, such as bio-device fabrication, drug storage and release, and tissue regeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-739
Number of pages12
JournalMaterials Science and Engineering C
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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