Carbon nanotubes are long thin cylinders composed entirely of carbon atoms. While their diameters are in the nanometer range (1-10), they can be very long, up to centimeters in length.
The carbon-carbon bond is very strong, making carbon nanotubes very robust and resistant to any kind of deformation. To construct a nanoscale color detector, Sandia researchers took inspiration from the human eye, and in a sense, improved on the model.
When light strikes the retina, it initiates a cascade of chemical and electrical impulses that ultimately trigger nerve impulses. In the nanoscale color detector, light strikes a chromophore and causes a conformational change in the molecule, which in turn causes a threshold shift on a transistor made from a single-walled carbon nanotube.
“In our eyes the neuron is in front of the retinal molecule, so the light has to transmit through the neuron to hit the molecule,” says Sandia researcher Xinjian Zhou. “We placed the nanotube transistor behind the molecule—a more efficient design.”
Zhou and his Sandia colleagues François Léonard, Andy Vance, Karen Krafcik, Tom Zifer, and Bryan Wong created the device. The team recently published a paper, “Color Detection Using Chromophore-Nanotube Hybrid Devices,” in the journal Nano Letters.
The idea of carbon nanotubes being light sensitive has been around for a long time, but earlier efforts using an individual nanotube were only able to detect light in narrow wavelength ranges at laser intensities. The Sandia team found that their nanodetector was orders of magnitude more sensitive, down to about 40 W/m2—about 3 percent of the density of sunshine reaching the ground. “Because the dye is so close to the nanotube, a little change turns into a big signal on the device,” says Zhou.
The research is in its second year of internal Sandia funding and is based on Léonard’s collaboration with the University of Wisconsin to explain the theoretical mechanism of carbon nanotube light detection. Léonard literally wrote the book on carbon nanotubes—The Physics of Carbon Nanotubes, published September 2008.
Léonard says the project draws upon Sandia’s expertise in both materials physics and materials chemistry. He and Wong laid the groundwork with their theoretical research, with Wong completing the first-principles calculations that supported the hypothesis of how the chromophores were arranged on the nanotubes and how the chromophore isomerizations affected electronic properties of the devices.
To construct the device, Zhou and Krafcik first had to create a tiny transistor made from a single carbon nanotube. They deposited carbon nanotubes on a silicon wafer and then used photolithography to define electrical patterns to make contacts.
The final piece came from Vance and Zifer, who synthesized molecules to create three types of chromophores that respond to either the red, green, or orange bands of the visible spectrum. Zhou immersed the wafer in the dye solution and waited a few minutes while the chromophores attached themselves to the nanotubes.
The team reached their goal of detecting visible light faster than they expected—they thought the entire first year of the project would be spent testing UV light. Now, they are looking to increase the efficiency by creating a device with multiple nanotubes.
“Detection is now limited to about 3 percent of sunlight, which isn’t bad compared with a commercially available digital camera,” says Zhou. “I hope to add some antennas to increase light absorption.”
A device made with multiple carbon nanotubes would be easier to construct and the resulting larger area would be more sensitive to light. A larger size is also more practical for applications.
Now, they are setting their sites on detecting infrared light. “We think this principle can be applied to infrared light and there is a lot of interest in infrared detection,” says Vance. “So we’re in the process of looking for dyes that work in infrared.”
This research eventually could be used for a number of exciting applications, such as an optical detector with nanometer scale resolution, ultra-tiny digital cameras, solar cells with more light absorption capability, or even genome sequencing. The near-term purpose, however, is basic science.
“A large part of why we are doing this is not to invent a photo detector, but to understand the processes involved in controlling carbon nanotube devices,” says Léonard.
The next step in the project is to create a nanometer-scale photovoltaic device. Such a device on a larger scale could be used as an unpowered photo detector or for solar energy. “Instead of monitoring current changes, we’d actually generate current,” says Vance. “We have an idea of how to do it, but it will be a more challenging fabrication process.”
Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.
Mike Janes | Newswise Science News
Further reports about: > Carbon Nanotube Device > Chromophore-Nanotube Hybrid Devices > Colors of the Rainbow > Nanotube > Rainbow > carbon nanotubes > chromophore > chromophore isomerizations > digital camera > infrared light > nanoscale color detector > photolithography > single molecule transformations > single-walled carbon nanotube > wavelength ranges
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy