Canadian grad student creates graphene Bruins logo to honor his new hometown team

June 17, 2011

By Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering

When civil engineering graduate student Steve Cranford, a native of Newfoundland, Canada, arrived at MIT in 2008, he brought with him a love of hockey. After attending a few Boston Bruins games, he switched his allegiance from the Canadian Canucks, becoming a loyal fan of his new hometown team.

Last week, as he waited for Game 5 of the championship match between the Bruins and the Canucks to begin, he integrated that newfound love for the Bruins with his enthusiasm for research, creating a computer model of the team’s logo made from graphene, the recently discovered form of carbon with a honeycomb geometry a single atom thick.

“Graphene is an amazing material that can be manipulated into a diverse array of nanoscale structures,” says Cranford. “Many of my simulations are of single sheets or ribbons. When I was looking at how the graphene sheets moved — rippling due to temperature fluctuations — they reminded me of the flags and banners that typically fly in the TD Garden. I was working on graphene geometries to see how precise I could construct some multilayer systems, and the Bruins logo seemed a logical choice.”

Atomistic modeling obeys the laws of physics to create realistic simulations of materials at the atomic scale. The model logo consists of three layers of graphene: the black B and circle, the yellow spokes, and the background sheet of graphene. Cranford intentionally created it using 26,773 atoms (of carbon and hydrogen) in tribute to Newfoundland native and Bruins player Michael Ryder, who wears jersey number 73.

“There are actually more Canadians on the Bruins than on the Canucks, and Ryder is only the second Newfoundlander to win the Cup,” says Cranford, referring to the Stanley Cup, which the Bruins won after defeating the Canucks in the final game of the series June 15.

“Graphene can be thought of as nanoscale paper, and depending how you cut, fold and assemble the pieces of paper, the properties can change,” said Cranford’s research advisor, CEE Professor Markus Buehler. “For this reason, different shapes and structures of graphene are being widely studied and investigated. It has a remarkable ability to stick to itself, so we can take advantage of this ‘sticky atomistic paper’ to construct whatever shapes we like.”

The diameter of the model logo is only 20 nanometers. It would take approximately 3 billion of the nano logos lined up end-to-end to span the length of the ice at TD Garden.

“Even if you had that many nano logos together, because they are so thin they would only weigh a couple of nanograms,” says Buehler. “That’s one-hundred-billionth of the weight of a standard NHL hockey puck, which weighs 170 grams.”