Posts belonging to Category nanoelectronics

Ultra-fast Data Processing At Nanoscale

Advancement in nanoelectronics, which is the use of nanotechnology in electronic components, has been fueled by the ever-increasing need to shrink the size of electronic devices like nanocomputers in a bid to produce smaller, faster and smarter gadgets such as computers, memory storage devices, displays and medical diagnostic tools.

While most advanced electronic devices are powered by photonics – which involves the use of photons to transmit informationphotonic elements are usually large in size and this greatly limits their use in many advanced nanoelectronics systems. Plasmons, which are waves of electrons that move along the surface of a metal after it is struck by photons, holds great promise for disruptive technologies in nanoelectronics. They are comparable to photons in terms of speed (they also travel with the speed of light), and they are much smaller. This unique property of plasmons makes them ideal for integration with nanoelectronics. However, earlier attempts to harness plasmons as information carriers had little success.

Addressing this technological gap, a research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has recently invented a novel “converter” that can harness the speed and small size of plasmons for high frequency data processing and transmission in nanoelectronics.

This innovative transducer can directly convert electrical signals into plasmonic signals, and vice versa, in a single step. By bridging plasmonics and nanoscale electronics, we can potentially make chips run faster and reduce power losses. Our plasmonic-electronic transducer is about 10,000 times smaller than optical elements. We believe it can be readily integrated into existing technologies and can potentially be used in a wide range of applications in the future,” explained Associate Professor Christian Nijhuis from the Department of Chemistry at the NUS Faculty of Science, who is the leader of the research team behind this breakthrough.

This novel discovery was first reported in the journal Nature Photonics.


Paper Supercapacitor

By coating ordinary paper with layers of gold nanoparticles and other materials, researchers have fabricated flexible paper supercapacitors that exhibit the best performance of any textile-type supercapacitor to date. In particular, the paper supercapacitors address one of the biggest challenges in this area, which is to achieve a high energy density in addition to an already high power density, since both properties are essential for realizing high-performance energy-storage devices. In the future, flexible paper supercapacitors could be used in wearable electronics for biomedical, consumer, and military applications. The researchers, led by Seung Woo Lee at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Jinhan Cho at Korea University, have published a paper on the flexible paper supercapacitor electrodes in a recent issue of Nature Communications. As energy-storage devices, supercapacitors have several advantages over batteries, such as a higher power density, rapid charge/discharge rate, and longer lifetime, yet they lag behind batteries in energy density (the amount of energy that can be stored in a given amount of space). Although several methods have been attempted to improve the energy density of paper supercapacitors by coating them with various conductive materials, often these methods have the drawback of reducing the power density.

The paper electrodes based on layer-by-layer-assembled metal nanoparticles exhibit metal-like electric conductivity, paper-like mechanical properties, and a large surface area without any thermal treatment and/or mechanical pressing,” explains coauthor Yongmin Ko at Korea University. “The periodic insertion of metal nanoparticles within high-energy nanoparticle-based paper electrodes could resolve the critical tradeoff in which an increase in the loading amount of materials to enhance the energy density of supercapacitors decreases the power density.”
Tests  showed that the flexible paper supercapacitors had a maximum capacitance that is higher than any previously reported textile-based supercapacitor. In addition, the new devices exhibits an excellent capacity retention, demonstrated by a 90% capacity retention after 5,000 bending cycles.


How To Forge Graphene In 3D Shape

The wonder material graphene gets many of its handy quirks from the fact that it exists in two dimensions, as a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. But to actually make use of it in practical applications, it usually needs to be converted into a 3D form. Now, researchers have developed a new and relatively simple way to do just that, using lasers to “forge” a three-dimensional pyramid out of graphene.

This isn’t the first time graphene has been given an extra dimension. In 2015, researchers from the University of Illinois molded graphene into 3D structures by layering it onto shaped substrates, and early this year MIT scientists found that tubes of the stuff could be shaped into 3D coral-like structures 10 times stronger than steel but just five percent as dense. Rice University researchers have also recently made graphene foam and reinforced it with carbon nanotubes.

But this new technique, developed by researchers in Finland and Taiwan, might be an easier and faster method to make 3D graphene. By focusing a laser onto a fine point on a 2D graphene lattice, the graphene at that spot is irradiated and bulges outwards. A variety of three-dimensional shapes can be made by writing patterns with the laser spot, with the height of the shape controlled by adjusting the irradiation dose at each particular point.

The team illustrated that technique by deforming a sheet of graphene into a 3D pyramid, standing 60 nm high. That sounds pretty tiny, but it’s 200 times taller than the graphene sheet itself.

We call this technique optical forging, since the process resembles forging metals into 3D shapes with a hammer,” says Mika Pettersson, co-author of the study. “In our case, a laser beam is the hammer that forges graphene into 3D shapes. The beauty of the technique is that it’s fast and easy to use; it doesn’t require any additional chemicals or processing. Despite the simplicity of the technique, we were very surprised initially when we observed that the laser beam induced such substantial changes on graphene. It took a while to understand what was happening.”

The researchers initially assumed that the laser had “doped” the graphene, introducing impurities into the material, but after further examination they found that wasn’t the case.

When we first examined the irradiated graphene, we were expecting to find traces of chemical species incorporated into the graphene, but we couldn’t find any,” comments Wei Yen Woon, co-author of the study. “After some more careful inspections, we concluded that it must be purely structural defects, rather than chemical doping, that are responsible for such dramatic changes on graphene.

The scientists explain that the optically forged graphene is structurally sound, highlighting its potential for building 3D architectures out of the material for a wide range of applications. In this form, the graphene has different electronic and optical properties from its 2D counterpart.

The research was published in the journal Nano Letters.

Source: Academy of Finland

Graphene, Not Glass, Is The Key To Better Optics

A lens just a billionth of a metre thick could transform phone cameras. Researchers at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, have created ultra-thin lenses that cap an optical fibre, and can produce images with the quality and sharpness of much larger glass lenses.

Compared with current lenses, our graphene lens only needs one film to achieve the same resolution,” says Professor Baohua Jia, a research leader at Swinburne’s Centre for Micro-Photonics. “In the future, mobile phones could be much thinner, without having to sacrifice the quality of their cameras. Our lens also allows infrared light to pass through, which glass lenses don’t.”

Producing graphene can be costly and challenging, so Baohua and her colleagues used a laser to pattern layers of graphene oxide (graphene combined with oxygen). By then removing the oxygen, they produced low-cost, patterned films of graphene, a thousand times thinner than a human hair. “By patterning the graphene oxide film in this way, its optical and electrical properties can be altered, which allowed us to place them in different devices,” she says.

Warm objects give off infrared light, so mobile phones with graphene lenses could be used to scan for hotspots in the human body and help in the early identification of diseases like breast cancer. By attaching the lens to a fibre optic tip, endoscopes — instruments that are currently several millimetres wide—could be made a million times smaller. The team is also investigating graphene’s amazing properties for their potential use as supercapacitors, capable of storing very large amounts of energy, which could replace conventional batteries.

Baohua’s work on graphene lenses was published in Nature Communications.


Nano Robots Build Molecules

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world’s first ‘molecular robot’ that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules.

The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimetre in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm.

Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks.

In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines.

All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks, explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University’s School of Chemistry. “The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientistIt is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”

The research has been published in Nature.


Optical Computer

Researchers at the University of Sydney (Australia) have dramatically slowed digital information carried as light waves by transferring the data into sound waves in an integrated circuit, or microchipTransferring information from the optical to acoustic domain and back again inside a chip is critical for the development of photonic integrated circuits: microchips that use light instead of electrons to manage data.

These chips are being developed for use in telecommunications, optical fibre networks and cloud computing data centers where traditional electronic devices are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, produce too much heat or use too much energy.

The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” said Dr Birgit Stiller, research fellow at the University of Sydney and supervisor of the project.

It is like the difference between thunder and lightning,” she said.

This delay allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light wavesLight is an excellent carrier of information and is useful for taking data over long distances between continents through fibre-optic cables.

But this speed advantage can become a nuisance when information is being processed in computers and telecommunication systems.


Very Fast Magnetic Data Storage

For almost seventy years now, magnetic tapes and hard disks have been used for data storage in computers. In spite of many new technologies that have been developed in the meantime, the controlled magnetization of a data storage medium remains the first choice for archiving information because of its longevity and low price. As a means of realizing random access memories (RAMs), however, which are used as the main memory for processing data in computers, magnetic storage technologies were long considered inadequate. That is mainly due to its low writing speed and relatively high energy consumption.

In 1956, IBM introduced the first magnetic hard disc, the RAMAC. ETH researchers have now tested a novel magnetic writing technology that could soon be used in the main memories of modern computers

Pietro Gambardella, Professor at the Department of Materials of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETHZ, Switzerland), and his colleagues, together with colleagues at the Physics Department and at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), have now shown that using a novel technique, magnetic storage can still be achieved very fast and without wasting energy.

In 2011, Gambardella and his colleagues already demonstrated a technique that could do just that: An electric current passing through a specially coated semiconductor film inverted the magnetization in a tiny metal dot. This is made possible by a physical effect called spin-orbit-torque. In this effect, a current flowing in a conductor leads to an accumulation of electrons with opposite magnetic moment (spins) at the edges of the conductor. The electron spins, in turn, create a magnetic field that causes the atoms in a nearby magnetic material to change the orientation of their magnetic moments. In a new study the scientists have now investigated how this process works in detail and how fast it is.

The results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.


Robots With The Sense Of Touch

A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering and lead author for the paper, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent. The semiconductor in rubber composite format enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure. Yu noted that traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. “That’s both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive.”

Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.

Yu and the rest of the team – co-authors include first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral, all with the UH Cullen College of Engineering – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as .

The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.

The work is reported in the journal Science Advances.


How To Draw Electricity from the Bloodstream

Men build dams and huge turbines to turn the energy of waterfalls and tides into electricity. To produce hydropower on a much smaller scale, Chinese scientists have now developed a lightweight power generator based on carbon nanotube fibers suitable to convert even the energy of flowing blood in blood vessels into electricity.

For thousands of years, people have used the energy of flowing or falling water for their purposes, first to power mechanical engines such as watermills, then to generate electricity by exploiting height differences in the landscape or sea tides. Using naturally flowing water as a sustainable power source has the advantage that there are (almost) no dependencies on weather or daylight. Even flexible, minute power generators that make use of the flow of biological fluids are conceivable. How such a system could work is explained by a research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Huisheng Peng and his co-workers have developed a fiber with a thickness of less than a millimeter that generates electrical power when surrounded by flowing saline solution—in a thin tube or even in a blood vessel.

The construction principle of the fiber is quite simple. An ordered array of carbon nanotubes was continuously wrapped around a polymeric core. Carbon nanotubes are well known to be electroactive and mechanically stable; they can be spun and aligned in sheets. In the as-prepared electroactive threads, the carbon nanotube sheets coated the fiber core with a thickness of less than half a micron. For power generation, the thread or “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG), as the authors call it, was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water or simply repeatedly dipped into a saline solution. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the scientists explained. According to the theory, an electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.

The power output efficiency of this system was high. Compared with other types of miniature energy-harvesting devices, the FFNG was reported to show a superior power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. Other advantages are elasticity, tunability, lightweight, and one-dimensionality, thus offering prospects of exciting technological applications. The FFNG can be made stretchable just by spinning the sheets around an elastic fiber substrate. If woven into fabrics, wearable electronics become thus a very interesting option for FFNG application. Another exciting application is the harvesting of electrical energy from the bloodstream for medical applications. First tests with frog nerves proved to be successful.

The findings are published in  the journal Angewandte Chemie.


More Durable Fuel Cells For Hydrogen Electric Car

Take a ride on the University of Delaware’s (UDFuel Cell bus, and you see that fuel cells can power vehicles in an eco-friendly way. In just the last two years, Toyota, BMW and Honda have released vehicles that run on fuel cells, and carmakers such as GM, BMW and VW are working on prototypes.  If their power sources lasted longer and cost less, fuel cell vehicles could go mainstream faster. Now, a team of engineers at UD has developed a technology that could make fuel cells cheaper and more durable.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are a green alternative to internal combustion engines because they produce power through electrochemical reactions, leaving no pollution behind. Materials called catalysts spur these electrochemical reactions. Platinum is the most common catalyst in the type of fuel cells used in vehicles. However, platinum is expensive — as anyone who’s shopped for jewelry knows. The metal costs around $30,000 per kilogram. Instead, the UD team made a catalyst of tungsten carbide, which goes for around $150 per kilogram. They produced tungsten carbide nanoparticles in a novel way, much smaller and more scalable than previous methods.

The material is typically made at very high temperatures, about 1,500 Celsius, and at these temperatures, it grows big and has little surface area for chemistry to take place on,” explains Vlachos, professor at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (UD). “Our approach is one of the first to make nanoscale material of high surface area that can be commercially relevant for catalysis.”

The researchers made tungsten carbide nanoparticles using a series of steps including hydrothermal treatment, separation, reduction, carburization and more. The results are described in a paper published in Nature Communications.


Electric Car: More Silicon To Enhance Batteries

Silicon – the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust – shows great promise in Li-ion batteries, according to new research from the University of Eastern Finland. By replacing graphite anodes with silicon, it is possible to quadruple anode capacity.

In a climate-neutral society, renewable and emission-free sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, will become increasingly widespread. The supply of energy from these sources, however, is intermittent, and technological solutions are needed to safeguard the availability of energy also when it’s not sunny or windy. Furthermore, the transition to emission-free energy forms in transportation requires specific solutions for energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries are considered to have the best potential.

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland introduced new technology to Li-ion batteries by replacing graphite used in anodes by silicon. The study analysed the suitability of electrochemically produced nanoporous silicon for Li-ion batteries. It is generally understood that in order for silicon to work in batteries, nanoparticles are required, and this brings its own challenges to the production, price and safety of the material. However, one of the main findings of the study was that particles sized between 10 and 20 micrometres and with the right porosity were in fact the most suitable ones to be used in batteries. The discovery is significant, as micrometre-sized particles are easier and safer to process than nanoparticles. This is also important from the viewpoint of battery material recyclability, among other things.

In our research, we were able to combine the best of nano– and micro-technologies: nano-level functionality combined with micro-level processability, and all this without compromising performance,” Researcher Timo Ikonen from the University of Eastern Finland says. “Small amounts of silicon are already used in Tesla’s batteries to increase their energy density, but it’s very challenging to further increase the amount,” he continues.

Next, researchers will combine silicon with small amounts of carbon nanotubes in order to further enhance the electrical conductivity and mechanical durability of the material.

The findings were published in Scientific Reports .


How To Store Data At The Molecular Level

From smartphones to nanocomputers or supercomputers, the growing need for smaller and more energy efficient devices has made higher density data storage one of the most important technological quests. Now scientists at the University of Manchester have proved that storing data with a class of molecules known as single-molecule magnets is more feasible than previously thought. The research, led by Dr David Mills and Dr Nicholas Chilton, from the School of Chemistry, is being published in Nature. It shows that magnetic hysteresis, a memory effect that is a prerequisite of any data storage, is possible in individual molecules at -213 °C. This is tantalisingly close to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (-196 °C).

The result means that data storage with single molecules could become a reality because the data servers could be cooled using relatively cheap liquid nitrogen at -196°C instead of far more expensive liquid helium (-269 °C). The research provides proof-of-concept that such technologies could be achievable in the near future.

The potential for molecular data storage is huge. To put it into a consumer context, molecular technologies could store more than 200 terabits of data per square inch – that’s 25,000 GB of information stored in something approximately the size of a 50p coin, compared to Apple’s latest iPhone 7 with a maximum storage of 256 GB.

Single-molecule magnets display a magnetic memory effect that is a requirement of any data storage and molecules containing lanthanide atoms have exhibited this phenomenon at the highest temperatures to date. Lanthanides are rare earth metals used in all forms of everyday electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. The team achieved their results using the lanthanide element dysprosium.

This is very exciting as magnetic hysteresis in single molecules implies the ability for binary data storage. Using single molecules for data storage could theoretically give 100 times higher data density than current technologies. Here we are approaching the temperature of liquid nitrogen, which would mean data storage in single molecules becomes much more viable from an economic point of view,’ explains Dr Chilton.

The practical applications of molecular-level data storage could lead to much smaller hard drives that require less energy, meaning data centres across the globe could become a lot more energy efficient.