Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


With 'ribbons' of graphene, width matters


A narrow enough ribbon will transform a high-performance conductor into a semiconductor

Using graphene ribbons of unimaginably small widths – just several atoms across – a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has found a novel way to "tune" the wonder material, causing the extremely efficient conductor of electricity to act as a semiconductor.

Yaoyi Li (foreground) and Mingxing Chen, UWM physics postdoctoral researchers, display an image of a ribbon of graphene 1 nanometer wide. In the image, achieved with a scanning-tunneling microscope, atoms are visible as "bumps."

Credit: Troye Fox, UWM Photo Services

In principle, their method for producing these narrow ribbons – at a width roughly equal to the diameter of a strand of human DNA – and manipulating the ribbons' electrical conductivity could be used to produce nano-devices.

Graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, is touted for its high potential to yield devices at nanoscale and deliver computing at quantum speed. But before it can be applied to nanotechnology, researchers must first find an easy method of controlling the flow of electrons in order to devise even a simple on-off switch.

"Nano-ribbons are model systems for studying nanoscale effects in graphene, but obtaining a ribbon width below 10 nanometers and characterizing its electronic state is quite challenging," says Yaoyi Li, a UWM physics postdoctoral researcher and first author of a paper published July 2 in the journal Nature Communications.

By imaging the ribbons with scanning-tunneling microscopy, researchers have confirmed how narrow the ribbon width must be to alter graphene's electrical properties, making it more tunable.

"We found the transition happens at three nanometers and the changes are abrupt," says Michael Weinert, a UWM theoretical physicist who worked on the Department of Energy-supported project with experimental physicist Lian Li. "Before this study, there was no experimental evidence of what width the onset of these behaviors is."

The team also found that the narrower the ribbon becomes, the more "tunable" the material's behaviors. The two edges of such a narrow ribbon are able to strongly interact, essentially transforming the ribbon into a semiconductor with tunable qualities similar to that of silicon.

The first hurdle

Current methods of cutting can produce ribbon widths of five nanometers across, still too wide to achieve the tunable state, says Yaoyi Li. In addition to producing narrower ribbons, any new strategy for cutting they devised would also have to result in a straight alignment of the atoms at the ribbon edges in order to maintain the electrical properties, he adds.

So the UWM team used iron nanoparticles on top of the graphene in a hydrogen environment. Iron is a catalyst that causes hydrogen and carbon atoms to react, creating a gas that etches a trench into the graphene. The cutting is accomplished by precisely controlling the hydrogen pressure, says Lian Li.

The iron nanoparticle moves randomly across the graphene, producing ribbons of various widths – including some as thin as one nanometer, he says. The method also produces edges with properly aligned atoms.

One limitation exists for the team's cutting method, and that has to do with where the edges are cut. The atoms in graphene are arranged on a honeycomb lattice that, depending on the direction of the cut produces either an "armchair-shaped" edge or a "zigzag" one. The semiconducting behaviors the researchers observed with their etching method will only occur with a cut in the zigzag configuration.

Manipulating for function

When cut, the carbon atoms at the edges of the resulting ribbons have only two of the normal three neighbors, creating a kind of bond that attracts hydrogen atoms and corrals electrons to the edges of the ribbon. If the ribbon is narrow enough, the electrons on opposite sides can still interact, creating a semiconductive electrical behavior, says Weinert.

The researchers are now experimenting with saturating the edges with oxygen, rather than hydrogen, to investigate whether this changes the electrical behavior of the graphene to that of a metal.

Adding function to graphene nano-ribbons through this process could make possible the sought-after goal of atomic-scale components made of the same material, but with different electrical behaviors, says Weinert.

Lian Li | Eurek Alert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease
23.03.2018 | Rice University

nachricht Sensitive grip
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>