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Graphene nanoribbons lay the groundwork for ultrapowerful computers

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Friday, September 13, 2019
Smaller, better semiconductors have consistently allowed computers to become faster and more energy-efficient than ever before.

But the 18-month cycle of exponential increases in computing power that has held since the mid 1960s now has leveled off. That’s because there are fundamental limits to integrated circuits made strictly from silicon—the material that forms the backbone of our modern computer infrastructure.

As they look to the future, however, engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are turning to new materials to lay down the foundations for more powerful computers.

They have devised a method to grow tiny ribbons of graphene—the single-atom-thick carbon compound—directly on top of silicon wafers.

Graphene ribbons have a special advantage over the material when it’s in its more common form of a broad, flat sheet; namely, thin strips of graphene become excellent semiconductors.

“Compared to current technology, this could enable faster, low power devices,” says Vivek Saraswat, a PhD student in materials science and engineering at UW-Madison. “It could help you pack in more transistors onto chips and continue Moore’s law into the future.”

Saraswat and his colleagues published details of their work July 9, 2019, in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

The advance could enable graphene-based integrated circuits, with much improved performance over today’s silicon chips.

“The main advantage of graphene nanoribbons is that electrons can travel faster through them, compared to silicon so you can make faster chips that use less energy,” says Mike Arnold, a professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison and a world expert in graphene growth.

Arnold is pioneer of a strategy to lay down long, thin strips of graphene—structures known as nanoribbons—on top a material called germanium.

That’s useful in many ways. However, since germanium isn’t a widely used semiconductor, it can’t form the basis for computer chips.

Meanwhile, other researchers have not been able to overcome a major barrier in layering graphene nanoribbons onto silicon. Graphene reacts with silicon to form an inert and less useful compound called silicon carbide.

Arnold’s group has developed an ingenious method to avoid that obstacle.

By laying down a thin protective layer of germanium before applying graphene, the researchers could successfully grow graphene nanoribbons on top of silicon wafers. The thin germanium layers protected graphene from reacting with silicon, yet didn’t interfere with the nanoribbons’ semiconducting capabilities.

It’s an important first step toward creating graphene-based integrated circuits. And because the base layer is composed of silicon, the graphene nanoribbon technology can be easily integrated into existing electronic/computing components.

“Our vision is to integrate graphene with existing devices,” says Arnold.

The scientists have patented their technology through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. One advantage of their synthesis approach is that it takes advantage of a scalable, industry-compatible chemical vapor deposition technique. Now, they’re working to improve the precision with which they lay down their nanoribbons so that they can achieve the complex patterns found in modern computer chips.

“We are using a few strategies to control the thickness and the orientation for the nanoribbons,” says Arnold. “We have a few really cool ideas.”

Tags:  Graphene  Graphene Nanoribbons  Mike Arnold  Semiconductors  University of Wisconsin-Madison  Vivek Saraswat 

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A new 'periodic table' for nanomaterials

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Monday, February 18, 2019

The approach was developed by Daniel Packwood of Kyoto University's Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and Taro Hitosugi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. It involves connecting the chemical properties of molecules with the nanostructures that form as a result of their interaction. A machine learning technique generates data that is then used to develop a diagram that categorizes different molecules according to the nano-sized shapes they form. This approach could help materials scientists identify the appropriate molecules to use in order to synthesize target nanomaterials.

Fabricating nanomaterials using a bottom-up approach requires finding 'precursor molecules' that interact and align correctly with each other as they self-assemble. But it's been a major challenge knowing how precursor molecules will interact and what shapes they will form.

Bottom-up fabrication of graphene nanoribbons is receiving much attention due to their potential use in electronics, tissue engineering, construction, and bio-imaging. One way to synthesise them is by using bianthracene precursor molecules that have bromine 'functional' groups attached to them. The bromine groups interact with a copper substrate to form nano-sized chains. When these chains are heated, they turn into graphene nanoribbons.

Packwood and Hitosugi tested their simulator using this method for building graphene nanoribbons.

Data was input into the model about the chemical properties of a variety of molecules that can be attached to bianthracene to 'functionalize' it and facilitate its interaction with copper. The data went through a series of processes that ultimately led to the formation of a 'dendrogram'.

This showed that attaching hydrogen molecules to bianthracene led to the development of strong one-dimensional nano-chains. Fluorine, bromine, chlorine, amidogen, and vinyl functional groups led to the formation of moderately strong nano-chains. Trifluoromethyl and methyl functional groups led to the formation of weak one-dimensional islands of molecules, and hydroxide and aldehyde groups led to the formation of strong two-dimensional tile-shaped islands.

The information produced in the dendogram changed based on the temperature data provided. The above categories apply when the interactions are conducted at -73°C. The results changed with warmer temperatures. The researchers recommend applying the data at low temperatures where the effect of the functional groups' chemical properties on nano-shapes are most clear.

The technique can be applied to other substrates and precursor molecules. The researchers describe their method as analogous to the periodic table of chemical elements, which groups atoms based on how they bond to each other. "However, in order to truly prove that the dendrograms or other informatics-based approaches can be as valuable to materials science as the periodic table, we must incorporate them in a real bottom-up nanomaterial fabrication experiment," the researchers conclude in their study. "We are currently pursuing this direction in our laboratories."

Tags:  Daniel Packwood  Graphene  Graphene Nanoribbons  Kyoto University  nanomaterials  Taro Hitosugi  Tokyo Institute of Technology 

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Electronics Applications for Graphene Hold Great Promise

Posted By Terrance Barkan, Monday, October 31, 2016

Applications that have really spurred a huge amount of graphene and other two-dimensional (2D) material research over the years have come from the field of electronics. The fear that complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology is quickly nearing the end of its ability to ward off Moore’s Law, in which the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years, has been the spur for much graphene research.

However, there has always been the big problem for graphene that it does not have an intrinsic band gap. It’s a pure conductor and not a semiconductor, like silicon, capable turning on and off the flow of electrons through it. While graphene can be functionalized in a way that it does have a band gap, research for it in the field of electronics have looked outside of digital logic where an intrinsic band gap is such an advantage. 

In the stories below, we see how graphene’s unrivaled conductivity is being exploited to take advantage of its strengths rather than trying to cover up for its weaknesses.

Graphene Comes to the Rescue of Li-ion Batteries

The role of graphene in increasing the charge capacity of the electrodes in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has varied. There’s been “decorated graphene” in which nanoparticles are scattered across the surface of the graphene, and graphene nanoribbons, just to name a few of the avenues that have been pursued.

Another way in which graphene has been looked at is to better enable silicon to serve as the electrode material for Li-ion batteries. Silicon is a great material for increasing the storage capacity of electrodes in Li-ion batteries, but there’s one big problem: it cracks after just few charge/discharge cycles. The aim has been to find a way to make silicon so that it’s not so brittle and can withstand the swelling and shrinking during the charge charging and discharing of lithium atoms into the electrode material In these efforts, like those out Northwestern University, the role of graphene has been to sandwich silicon between layers graphene sheets in the anode of the battery.

Now, Yi Cui from both Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, who has been at the forefront of research to get silicon to be more flexible and durable for Li-ion batteries, has turned to graphene to solve the issue

Cui and his colleagues were able to demonstrate in research described in the journal Nature Energy, a method for to encasing each particle of silicon in a cage of graphene that enables the silicon to expand and contract without cracking. In a full-cell electrochemical test, the graphene-infused silicon anodes retained 90 percent of their charge capacity after 100 charge-discharge cycles. 

Previous attempts by Cui and many others to create nanostructured silicon has been very difficult, making mass production fairly impractical. However, based on these latest results, Cui believes that this approach is not only technologically possible, but may in fact be commercially viable.

The process involves coating the silicon particles with a layer of nickel. The nickel coating is used as the surface and the catalyst for the second step: growing the graphene. The final step of the process involves using an acid on the graphene-coated silicon particles so that the nickel is etched away.

“This new method allows us to use much larger silicon particles that are one to three microns, or millionths of a meter, in diameter, which are cheap and widely available,” Cui said in a press release. “Particles this big have never performed well in battery anodes before, so this is a very exciting new achievement, and we think it offers a practical solution.”

While a practical manufacturing approach was much needed, the technique also leads to an electrode material with very high charge capacity.

“Researchers have tried a number of other coatings for silicon anodes, but they all reduced the anode’s efficiency,” said Stanford postdoctoral researcher Kai Yan, in a press release. “The form-fitting graphene cages are the first coating that maintains high efficiency, and the reactions can be carried out at relatively low temperatures.”

Graphene Provides the Perfect Touch to Flexible Sensors

 

Photo: Someya Laboratory

Flexible sensors are the technological backbone of artificial skin technologies. The idea is that you can impart the sense of touch to a flexible sensor, making it possible to cover a prosthetic device for either a robot or replacement limb so it can feel. Creating materials that tick the boxes of flexibility, durability and sensitivity has been a challenge. Over the years, researchers have increasingly turned to nanomaterials, and graphene in particular, as a possible solution. 

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have found that nanofibers produced from a combination of carbon nanotubes and graphene overcomes some of the big problems facing flexible pressure sensors: they’re not that accurate after being bent or deformed. The researchers have suggested that the flexible sensor they have developed could provide a more accurate detection breast cancer.

In research described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the scientists produced their flexible sensor by employing organic transistors and a pressure sensitive nanofiber structure.

The researchers constructed the nanofiber structure using nanofibers with diameters ranging between 300 to 700 nanometers. The researchers produced the nanofibers by combining carbon nanotubes and graphene and mixing that into a flexible polymer. The nanofibers entangled with each other to form a thin, transparent structure.

In contrast to other flexible sensors in which the striving for accuracy makes the sensors too sensitive to being deformed in any way, the fibers in this new flexible sensor does not lose their accuracy in measuring pressures. These fibers achieve this because of their ability to change their relative alignment to accommodate the bending. This allows them to continue measuring pressure because it reduces the strain in individual fibers.

Tunable Graphene Plasmons Lead to Tunable Lasers

Illustration: University of Manchester

A few years ago, researchers found that the phenomenon that occurs when photons strike a metallic surface and stir up the movement of electrons on the surface to the point where the electrons form into waves—known as surface plasmons—also occurs in graphene. 

This discovery along with the ability to tune the graphene plasmons has been a big boon for the use of graphene in optoelectronic applications.  Now research out of the University of Manchester, led by Konstantin Novoselov, who along with Andre Geim were the two University of Manchester scientists who won the Nobel Prize for discovering graphene, has leveraged the ability of tuning graphene plasmons and combined it with terahertz quantum cascade lasers, making it possible to reversibly alter their emission. 

This ability to reversibly the alter the emission of quantum cascade lasers is a big deal in optoelectronic applicatiopns, such as fiber optics telecommunication technologies by offering potentially higher bandwidth capabilities.

“Current terahertz devices do not allow for tunable properties, a new device would have to be made each time requirements changed, making them unattractive on an industrial scale,” said Novoselov in a press release. “Graphene however, can allow for terahertz devices to be switched on and off, as well as altering their state.”

In research described in the journal Science, were able to manipulate the doping levels of a graphene sheet so that it generated plasmons on its surface. When this doped graphene sheet was combined with a terahertz quantum cascade laser, it became possible to tune the transmission of the laser by tuning the graphene plasmons, essentially changing the concentration of charge carriers.

Graphene Flakes Speed Up Artificial Brains

Illustration: Alexey Kotelnikov/Alamy


Researchers out of Princeton University have found that graphene flakes could be a key feature in computer chips that aim at mimicking the function of the human brain. 


In the human brain, neurons are used to transmit information by passing electrical charges through them. In artificial brains, transistors would take the place of neurons. One approach has been to construct the transistors out of lasers that would turn and off and the time intervals between the on and off states of the lasers would represent the 1s and 0s of digital logic.

One of the challenges that researchers have faced in this design is getting the time intervals between the laser pulses down to picosecond time scales, one trillionth of a second.

In research described in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the Princeton researchers placed graphene flakes inside a semiconductor laser to act as a kind of “saturable absorber,” that absorbed photons and then was able to emit them in a quick burst. 

It turns out graphene possesses a number of properties that makes it attractive for this application. Not only can it absorb and release photons extremely quickly, but it can also work at any wavelength. What this means is that even if semiconductor lasers are emitting different colors, the graphene makes it possible for them to work together simultaneously without interfering with each other, leading to higher processing speeds.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags:  Batteries  Decorated Graphene  Electronics  Flexible Sensors  Graphene  Graphene Nanoribbons  Lasers  Li-ion  optoelectronics  Semiconductor 

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