Advancing the Ancient Art of Calligraphy

A page of Chinese calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy has been a popular art form for centuries, particularly during the Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year. It is said that writing calligraphy at the beginning of the year brings good luck and peace and sets the tone for the entire year to come. Now, thanks to MXenes, a family of two-dimensional materials discovered at Drexel University, that tradition is ready for a major evolution in the modern age.

Calligraphy ink is often made from a combination of pigments and binding agents, including lampblack, glue, and water, that are designed to dry quickly and easy to manipulate. Binders and glues are used for calligraphy ink because they help the ink to adhere to the paper and prevent bleeding and fuzzy edges, making the ink manageable to be shaped into beautiful letters and designs. But as ink is diluted to create lighter shades, bleeding remains a problem. By creating inks using MXenes, though, a non-bleed ink can be created.

MXenes are an emerging class of 2D materials, also known as transition metal carbides and nitrides. They have been shown to offer many potential applications in electronics, energy storage, and other areas thanks to their unique combinations of properties, especially high-electrical conductivity and solution processability that exceed that of the famous 2D material, graphene.

A page of Chinese calligraphy
MXene solutions and their dry films show a variety of plasmonic colors, depending on the composition and structure of MXenes. The color can be controlled by controlling the arrangement of atoms in MXene.

Researchers from the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute demonstrate MXenes as an ideal material for calligraphy ink. The hydrophilic (water-loving) surface readily allows dispersity in many solvents, including water, and good adhesion to hydrophilic substrates, such as paper; all binder-free and bleed-free. This means that MXene ink, regardless of the concentration, paper type, or pressure, always delivers the characters and designs intended with clear, sharp edges. So far, more than 50 related compositions of MXenes have been created, offering amazing diversity of properties and colors, forming a family of bleed-free, electrically conductive, colored inks for calligraphy, water-based painting, and more.

The long list of interesting characteristics provided by MXenes offers other enhanced qualities to the ink. MXene ink has been shown to provide 5G-level bandwidth when used as an antenna and can block electromagnetic interference and radio waves on demand . Combined with their biocompatibility, low toxicity, and excellent mechanical durability, MXenes have been explored as an ideal material for a wide array of applications. Beyond inks and paints, research into OLEDs, solar cell, thin-film transistors, biosensors, and brain neural activity recording have also been studied.

When it comes to art, MXene’s potential alone is exciting. An artist could light up a room, literally, through their brushstrokes. With so many advantages and features not available through traditional inks, MXenes are set to become the premium ink choice not only for calligraphers to create stunning works of art that may last centuries, but for all artists who work in the paint medium, as well as for scientists, engineers, and designers creating next-generation electronic products and clothing. One can write electrical circuits or create electronic tattoos with MXene inks, which can be used in the quickly developing field of flexible, printable, and wearable electronics for healthcare and many other applications.

Read more about this discovery and download the paper at the Drexel Nanomaterials website.