Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Penn Study: Understanding Graphene’s Electrical Properties on an Atomic Level


Graphene, a material that consists of a lattice of carbon atoms, one atom thick, is widely touted as being the most electrically conductive material ever studied. However, not all graphene is the same. With so few atoms comprising the entirety of the material, the arrangement of each one has an impact on its overall function.

Now, for the first time, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have used a cutting-edge microscope to study the relationship between the atomic geometry of a ribbon of graphene and its electrical properties.

An illustration of a graphene nanoribbon shaped by the beam of a transmission electron microscope. (Credit: Robert Johnson)

A deeper understanding of this relationship will be necessary for the design of graphene-based integrated circuits, computer chips and other electronic devices.

The study was led by professors A.T. Charlie Johnson and Marija Drndić, both of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, along with Zhengqing John Qi, a member of Johnson’s lab, and Julio Rodríguez-Manzo from Drndic’s lab. Sung Ju Hong, then a member of Johnson’s lab, also contributed to the study.

The Penn team collaborated with researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium and Seoul National University in South Korea.

Their study was published in the journal Nano Letters.

The team’s experiments were enabled by Brookhaven’s aberration-corrected transmission electron microscope, or AC-TEM. By focusing the microscope’s electron beam, the researchers were able to controllably cut sheets of graphene into ribbons with widths as small as 10 nanometers, while keeping them connected to an electricity source outside the microscope. They then could use the AC-TEM’s nanoscopic resolution to distinguish between individual carbon atoms within those ribbons. This level of precision was necessary to determine how the carbon atoms on the edges of the nanoribbons were oriented.

“We’re relating the structure of the graphene — its atomic arrangement — to its electrical transport properties,” said Drndić. “In particular, we were looking at the edges, which we were able to identify the geometry of.”

“Graphene looks like chicken wire, and you can cut up this hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms in different ways, producing different shapes on the edge,” she said. “But if you cut it one way, it might behave more like a metal, and, if you cut it another way, it could be more like a semiconductor.”  

For any piece of graphene, either the pointy or flat sides of its carbon hexagons might be at the piece’s edge. Where the pointy sides face outward, the edge has a “zig-zag” pattern. Flat sides produce “armchair” pattern when they are on an edge. Any given edge might also display a mix of the two, depending on how the piece of graphene was initially cut and how that edge degrades under stress.   

Because the graphene nanoribbons were connected to an electricity source while they were inside the AC-TEM, the researchers were able to simultaneously trace the outline of the ribbons and measure their conductivity. This allowed the two figures to be correlated.

“If you want to use graphene nanoribbons in computer chips, for example, you absolutely need to have this information,” Johnson said. “People have looked at these ribbons under the microscope, and people have measured their electrical properties without looking at them but never both at the same time.”

After studying the nanoribbons with relatively low levels of electron flow, the researchers turned up the intensity, much like turning up a light bulb using a dimmer switch The combination of the electron bombardment from the microscope and the large amount of electrons flowing through the nanoribbons caused their structures to gradually degrade. As carbon bonds within the nanoribbons broke, they became thinner and the shape of their edges changed, providing additional data points.

“By doing everything within the microscope,” Rodríguez-Manzo said, “we can just follow this transformation to the end, measuring currents for the nanoribbons even when the get smaller than 1 nanometer across. That’s five atoms wide.”

This kind of stress testing is critical to the future design of graphene electronics.

“We have to see how much current we can transport before these nanoribbons fall apart. Our data shows that this figure is high compared to copper,” Rodríguez-Manzo said. 

The harsh conditions also caused some of the ribbons to fold up on themselves, producing nanoscopic graphene loops. Serendipitously, the team found that these loops had desirable properties.  

“When the edges wrap around and form the loops we see,” Johnson said, “it helps hold the structure together, and it makes the current density a thousand higher than what is currently state of the art. That structure would be useful in making interconnects [which are the conducting paths that connect transistors together in integrated circuits].”  

Future research in this field will involve directly comparing the electrical properties of graphene nanoribbons with different widths and edge shapes.

“Once we can cut these nanoribbons atom by atom,” Drndić said, “there will be a lot more we can achieve.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, Belgium’s Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique, South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and National Research Foundation and the European Union’s Graphene Flagship Consortium.  

Andrés R. Botello-Méndez and Jean-Christophe Charlierof the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, Eric Stach of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Yung Woo Park of Seoul National University also contributed to the study.

Evan Lerner | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Atomic Electrical Laboratory electricity geometry graphene nanoribbons properties structure

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht ORNL researchers find 'greener' way to assemble materials for solar applications
06.10.2015 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

nachricht Extending a Battery's Lifetime with Heat
05.10.2015 | American Institute of Physics (AIP)

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

Im Focus: High-speed march through a layer of graphene

In cooperation with the Center for Nano-Optics of Georgia State University in Atlanta (USA), scientists of the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität have made simulations of the processes that happen when a layer of carbon atoms is irradiated with strong laser light.

Electrons hit by strong laser pulses change their location on ultrashort timescales, i.e. within a couple of attoseconds (1 as = 10 to the minus 18 sec). In...

Im Focus: Battery Production: Laser Light instead of Oven-Drying and Vacuum Technology

At the exhibition BATTERY + STORAGE as part of WORLD OF ENERGY SOLUTIONS 2015 in Stuttgart, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT and for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS will be showing how laser technology can be used to manufacture batteries both cost- and energy-efficiently.

In the truest sense, it’s all about watts at the Dresden-based Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS and the Aachen-based Fraunhofer...

Im Focus: New Sinumerik features improve productivity and precision

EMO 2015, Hall 3, Booth E06/F03

  • Drive optimization called automatically by the part program boosts productivity
  • Automatically switching the dynamic values to rapid traverse and interpolation...
All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Graphene teams up with two-dimensional crystals for faster data communications

06.10.2015 | Information Technology

Laser-wielding physicists seize control of atoms' behavior

06.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

Flipping molecular attachments amps up activity of CO2 catalyst

06.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>