A research team at Columbia University has figured out a way to bridge the gap between our three-dimensional world and the two-dimensional world of graphene, an alluring but notoriously fickle “miracle material” only one atom thick. The finding brings us one step closer to a new generation of smaller, lighter, faster, cheaper, more flexible and more energy efficient computers, solar cells, and other electronic devices.
Making Clean Contact With Graphene
Graphene is a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a characteristic chicken wire pattern. Despite its slim nature, it is 200 times stronger than steel.
It was only discovered in 2004 and it has already been the subject of thousands of research papers around the globe (here, here, and here for example), as scientists are attracted by its exotic properties as a conductor.
In a conventional electrical setup, the contact with graphene is made on its two-dimensional surface. The downside of that is the exposure of graphene to contaminants, which inhibits performance.
Study co-author James Hone explains:
It turns out that the problems of contamination and electrical contact are linked. Any high-performance electronic material must be encapsulated in an insulator to protect it from the environment. Graphene lacks the ability to make out-of-plane bonds, which makes electrical contact through its surface difficult, but also prevents bonding to conventional 3D insulators such as oxides.
In the new Columbia study, the secret sauce is a new configuration that puts the contact on the one-dimensional edge of graphene. That enables a clean, uncontaminated electrical contact between graphene and the outside world, as described by research team leader Cory Dean:
By making contact only to the 1D edge of graphene, we have developed a fundamentally new way to bridge our 3D world to this fascinating 2D world, without disturbing its inherent properties. This virtually eliminates external contamination and finally allows graphene to show its true potential in electronic devices.
We Built This Next Generation of Amazing Electronic Devices
Us taxpayers have been fist-bumping for a generation over the Internet, which thanks to our contributions has its roots in the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but if that is getting old hat, graphene will give you something new to crow about.
As with many of the graphene research projects we’ve covered, the new Columbia study was supported with taxpayer dollars through DARPA, the Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the office of Naval Research.
The National Research Foundation of Korea also chipped in for good measure so give them a nice hug, too.
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