A breakthrough in controlling graphene
A breakthrough in controlling graphene could see the highly conductive and super-strong ‘wonder material’ replace silicon and change the face of electronics, leading to faster, thinner gadgets.
Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have made a giant step in overcoming one of the hurdles blocking the development of graphene for use in everyday devices – that it’s difficult to electrically ‘turn off’ the flow of current through it.
Now scientists have found a way of chemically altering the material to ‘tune’ its electronic properties and make it more functional.
Researchers at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science have recently developed a new method to oxidise graphene without the collateral damage encountered in the Hummers method.
Their oxidation process is also reversible, which enables further tunability over the resulting properties of their chemically modified graphene.
‘Performing chemical reactions on graphene is very difficult,’ said Mark C. Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School. ‘Typically, researchers employ aggressive acidic conditions, such as those utilized in the Hummers method, that damage the lattice and result in a material that is difficult to control.
‘In our method, however, the resulting graphene oxide is chemically homogeneous and reversible – leading to well-controlled properties that can likely be exploited in high-performance applications.’
To create the graphene oxide, researchers leaked oxygen gas (O2) into an ultra-high vacuum chamber. Inside, a hot tungsten filament was heated to 1500C, causing the oxygen molecules to dissociate into atomic oxygen. The highly reactive oxygen atoms then uniformly inserted into the graphene lattice.
The resulting material possesses a high degree of chemical homogeneity. Spectroscopic measurements show that the electronic properties of the graphene vary as a function of oxygen coverage, suggesting that this approach can tune the properties of graphene-based devices.
‘It’s unclear if this work will impact real-world applications overnight,’ Hersam said. ‘But it appears to be a step in the right direction.’
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