17 April 2012

New discovery could advance graphene based electronics

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have discovered an entirely new carbon-based material synthesised from graphene that could pave the way for super fast, next generation electronics.

Dubbed graphene monoxide (GMO), the material is said to exhibit characteristics that will make it easier to scale up than graphene. It is also semiconducting, meaning all three characteristics of electrical conductivity (conducting, insulating and semiconducting) can now be found in the carbon family.

The team created GMO while conducting research into the behavior of a hybrid nanomaterial engineered by research member Professor Junhong Chen. The material, which was essentially graphene rolled into a cylinder decorated with tin oxide nanoparticles, was originally used by Chen to make high performance sensors.

To image the hybrid material as it was sensing, Chen used a high resolution transmission electron microscope. To explain what was happening, an infrared imaging technique was used to render a chemical signature that identified which atoms were interacting as sensing occurred.

The nanotube was unrolled into a sheet of graphene to achieve a larger area so that more attachment sites could be looked at. This prompted the team to search for ways to make graphene from its cousin, graphene oxide (GO), an insulator that can be scaled up inexpensively.

In the end, the researchers produced four materials that they collectively called GMO. They captured video of the process using selected area electron diffraction in a transmission electron microscope.

Because GMO is formed in single sheets, Chen says the material could have applications in products that involve surface catalysis. The team is also exploring its use in the anode parts of lithium-ion batteries, which could make them more efficient.

Laura Hopperton

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