Mária Kováčová and polymer composites based on graphene oxide

Polymer composites based on graphene oxide were prepared and investigated by Dr. Kováčová during her 17-month-long post-doc position at the Department of Physical Electronics. These composites will find applications as a material for water filters but also as a structural material for aerospace.

4 Aug 2023 Tereza Schmidtová

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Mgr. Mária Kováčová, PhD. studied biology and chemistry at the Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra (UKF), Slovakia. She pursued her Ph.D. studies at the Institute of Polymers of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. She came to the Department of Physical Electronics (DPE) as part of the Postdoc2MUNI project funded by the European Union. She spent more than a year at the DPE working on the optimization of the preparation of graphene oxide-based polymer composite (GO).

Dr. Kováčová worked at the DPE from February 2022 until the end of June this year. In her project, she optimized the preparation of large GO and rGO (reduced graphene oxide) materials using plasma technologies and their polymer composites by different processing methods. Her objective was to prepare mechanically stable, durable polymer composites that remain electrically conductive.

For researching these materials based on GO and rGO, she collaborated with Dr. Richard Krumpolec from the Plasma Nanotechnologies and Bioapplications research group of the DPE. Dr. Krumpolec has long been involved in his research on the use of plasma for the preparation and modification of GO and rGO. You can read more about the innovative preparation method he and his colleagues developed in our article from last year here.

Dr. Kováčová used several types of plasma sources in her work, e.g., DCSBD (Diffuse Coplanar Surface Barrier Discharge), MSDBD (Multihollow Surface Dielectric Barrier Discharge), or blown arc discharge. By optimizing the process (changing the solvent, size, type, and concentration of GO flakes, etc.), she has achieved the preparation of larger samples that are usable in industrial applications. The main part of Dr. Kováčová's work was the polymer composites manufacture. "I prepared composites by various methods such as pressing, impregnation, electrostatic softening, etc. However, for each method, finding the optimal conditions for preparation was necessary, which was often challenging. At the same time, I used different polymer matrices, for example, PREPREG with epoxy and carbon fibers, PEEK (Polyetheretherketone), LDPE (Low-Densit Polyethylene), SIS (Styrene-Isoprene-Styrene), epoxies and others. In addition, I always tested the prepared composites, for example, by measuring the mechanical properties o XPS, FTIR, Raman or confocal, measuring contact angles, etc. The search for suitable combinations and conditions was very time and material-consuming," adds Dr. Kováčová.

She also was involved in preparing rGO/PEDOT, which are being tested as possible electrodes for solar cells, where this material can improve their efficiency. Composites of rGO with PEDOT are also interesting for their properties, such as flexible and stretchable heating elements. In addition to the above, Dr. Kováčová also worked on the synthesis and plasma treatment of hydrophobic carbon dots in toluene solution using MSDBD discharge to enhance their antibacterial efficacy. For example, their applications are as functional fillers in antibacterial catheters.

Dr. Kováčová has been very successful in her scientific career. In addition to her research achievements, she was also a finalist for the ESET Science Award in 2021 in the Outstanding Young Scientist under 35 category. ESET Science Award is an award for outstanding personalities in Slovak science and higher education. The article and the interview on this occasion with Dr. Kováčová can be read/played here. At the end of last year, Dr. Kováčová was also featured in Forbes magazine (article link here). During her professional career, however, she has not always been solely dedicated to scientific work. Read more about her life in our follow up interview here.

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