Super Efficient Nanowires shape the future of electronics

A group of researchers at the Basque Excellence Research Center into Polymers (POLYMAT), the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), the University of Barcelona, the Institute of Bioengineering of Barcelona (IBEC), and the University of Aveiro, and led by Aurelio Mateo-Alonso, the Ikerbasque research professor at POLYMAT, have developed a new suite of molecular wires or nanowires that are opening up new horizons in molecular electronics.

The growing demand for increasingly smaller electronic devices is prompting the need to produce circuits whose components are also as small as possible, and this is calling for fresh approaches in their design.

Molecular electronics has sparked great interest because the manufacture of electronic circuits using molecules would entail a reduction in their size. Nanowires are conducting wires on a molecular scale that carry the current inside these circuits. That is why the efficiency of these wires is crucially important.

In fact, one of the main novelties in this new suite of nanowires developed by the group led by Aurelio Mateo lies in their high efficiency, which constitutes a step forward in miniaturizing electronic circuits.
The findings have been published today in the journal Nature Communications.


How To Harness Heat To Power Computers

One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don’t overheat or shut down. Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska–Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures. Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group’s development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.

thermal diode

If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways,” Ndao said. “In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating.”

A paper Ndao co-authored with Mahmoud Elzouka, a graduate student in mechanical and materials engineering, was published in the March edition of Scientific Reports. In it, they documented their device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 degrees Celsius).


Carbon Nanotubes Self-Assemble Into Tiny Transistors

Carbon nanotubes can be used to make very small electronic devices, but they are difficult to handle. University of Groningen (Netherlands) scientists, together with colleagues from the University of Wuppertal and IBM Zurich, have developed a method to select semiconducting nanotubes from a solution and make them self-assemble on a circuit of gold electrodes. The results look deceptively simple: a self-assembled transistor with nearly 100 percent purity and very high electron mobility. But it took ten years to get there. University of Groningen Professor of Photophysics and Optoelectronics Maria Antonietta Loi designed polymers which wrap themselves around specific carbon nanotubes in a solution of mixed tubes. Thiol side chains on the polymer bind the tubes to the gold electrodes, creating the resultant transistor.

polymer wrapped nanotube

In our previous work, we learned a lot about how polymers attach to specific carbon nanotubes, Loi explains. These nanotubes can be depicted as a rolled sheet of graphene, the two-dimensional form of carbon. ‘Depending on the way the sheets are rolled up, they have properties ranging from semiconductor to semi-metallic to metallic.’ Only the semiconductor tubes can be used to fabricate transistors, but the production process always results in a mixture.

We had the idea of using polymers with thiol side chains some time ago‘, says Loi. The idea was that as sulphur binds to metals, it will direct polymer-wrapped nanotubes towards gold electrodes. While Loi was working on the problem, IBM even patented the concept. ‘But there was a big problem in the IBM work: the polymers with thiols also attached to metallic nanotubes and included them in the transistors, which ruined them.’

Loi’s solution was to reduce the thiol content of the polymers, with the assistance of polymer chemists from the University of Wuppertal. ‘What we have now shown is that this concept of bottom-up assembly works: by using polymers with a low concentration of thiols, we can selectively bring semiconducting nanotubes from a solution onto a circuit.’ The sulphur-gold bond is strong, so the nanotubes are firmly fixed: enough even to stay there after sonication of the transistor in organic solvents.

Over the last years, we have created a library of polymers that select semiconducting nanotubes and developed a better understanding of how the structure and composition of the polymers influences which carbon nanotubes they select’, says Loi. The result is a cheap and scalable production method for nanotube electronics. So what is the future for this technology? Loi: ‘It is difficult to predict whether the industry will develop this idea, but we are working on improvements, and this will eventually bring the idea closer to the market.’

The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials on 5 April.

‘Spray-On’ Memory for Paper, Fabric, Plastic

USB flash drives are already common accessories in offices and college campuses. But thanks to the rise in printable electronics, digital storage devices like these may soon be everywhere – including on our groceries, pill bottles and even clothingDuke University researchers have brought us closer to a future of low-cost, flexible electronics by creating a new “spray-on digital memory device using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks. The device, which is analogous to a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.


Duke University researchers have developed a new “spray-on” digital memory (upper left) that could be used to build programmable electronics on flexible materials like paper, plastic or fabric. They used LEDS to demonstrate a simple application.

We have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and we’ve even done our own little demonstration using LEDs,” said Duke graduate student Matthew Catenacci, who describes the device in a paper published online in the Journal of Electronic Materials. At the core of the new device, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is a new copper-nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information.

Memory is kind of an abstract thing, but essentially it is a series of ones and zeros which you can use to encode information,” said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper.


Semiconductors As Thin As An Atom

A two-dimensional material developed by physicist Prof. Dr. Axel Enders (Bayreuth University  in Germany) together with international partners could revolutionize electronicsSemiconductors that are as thin as an atom are no longer the stuff of .  Thanks to its semiconductor properties, this material could be much better suited for high tech applications than graphene, the discovery of which in 2004 was celebrated worldwide as a . This new material contains carbon, boron, and nitrogen, and its chemical name is “Hexagonal Boron-Carbon-Nitrogen (h-BCN)”. The new development was published in the journal ACS Nano.

2D material Bayreuth University

Our findings could be the starting point for a new generation of electronic transistors, circuits, and sensors that are much smaller and more bendable than the electronic elements used to date. They are likely to enable a considerable decrease in power consumption,” Prof. Enders predicts, citing the CMOS technology that currently dominates the electronics industry. This technology has clear limits with regard to further miniaturization. “h-BCN is much better suited than graphene when it comes to pushing these limits,” according to Enders.

Graphene is a two-dimensional lattice made up entirely of carbon atoms. It is thus just as thin as a single atom. Once scientists began investigating these structures more closely, their remarkable properties were greeted with enthusiasm across the world. Graphene is 100 to 300 times stronger than steel and is, at the same time, an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.


Nano Printing Heralds NanoComputers Era

A new technique using liquid metals to create integrated circuits that are just atoms thick could lead to the next big advance for electronics. The process opens the way for the production of large wafers around 1.5 nanometres in depth (a sheet of paper, by comparison, is 100,000nm thick). Other techniques have proven unreliable in terms of quality, difficult to scale up and function only at very high temperatures – 550 degrees or more.

Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from RMIT’s School of Engineering in Australia , led the project with  colleagues from RMIT and researchers from CSIRO, Monash University, North Carolina State University and the the University of California, He observed that the electronics industry had “hit a barrier.

nano printing

The fundamental technology of car engines has not progressed since 1920 and now the same is happening to electronics. Mobile phones and computers are no more powerful than five years ago. That is why this new 2D printing technique is so important – creating many layers of incredibly thin electronic chips on the same surface dramatically increases processing power and reduces costsIt will allow for the next revolution in electronics.

Benjamin Carey, a researcher with RMIT and the CSIRO, said creating electronic wafers just atoms thick could overcome the limitations of current chip production. It could also produce materials that were extremely bendable, paving the way for flexible electronics. “However, none of the current technologies are able to create homogenous surfaces of atomically thin semiconductors on large surface areas that are useful for the industrial scale fabrication of chips.  Our solution is to use the metals gallium and indium, which have a low melting point.  These metals produce an atomically thin layer of oxide on their surface that naturally protects them. It is this thin oxide which we use in our fabrication method,”  explains Carey.

By rolling the liquid metal, the oxide layer can be transferred on to an electronic wafer, which is then sulphurised. The surface of the wafer can be pre-treated to form individual transistors.  We have used this novel method to create transistors and photo-detectors of very high gain and very high fabrication reliability in large scale,” he adds.

The paper outlining the new technique has been published in the journal Nature Communications.


Scalable Production of Conductive Graphene Inks

Conductive inks based on graphene and layered materials are key for low-cost manufacturing of flexible electronics, novel energy solutions, composites and coatings. A new method for liquid-phase exfoliation of graphite paves the way for scalable production.

Conductive inks are useful for a range of applications, including printed and flexible electronics such as radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas, transistors or photovoltaic cells. The advent of the internet of things is predicted to lead to new connectivity within everyday objects, including in food packaging. Thus, there is a clear need for cheap and efficient production of electronic devices, using stable, conductive and non-toxic components. These inks can also be used to create novel composites, coatings and energy storage devices.

A new method for producing high quality conductive graphene inks with high concentrations has been developed by researchers working at the Cambridge Graphene Centre at the University of Cambridge, UK. The novel method uses ultrahigh shear forces in a microfluidisation process to exfoliate graphene flakes from graphite. The process converts 100% of the starting graphite material into usable flakes for conductive inks, avoiding the need for centrifugation and reducing the time taken to produce a usable ink. The research, published in ACS Nano, also describes optimisation of the inks for different printing applications, as well as giving detailed insights into the fluid dynamics of graphite exfoliation.

graphene scalable production

“This important conceptual advance will significantly help innovation and industrialization. The fact that the process is already licensed and commercialized indicates how it is feasible to cut the time from lab to market” , said Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre.


No More Speakers For Television

Sony has created the world’s first television which can emit sound from the screen itself, removing the need for separate speakers. Unveiled at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, the A1 BRAVIA OLED series features a unique “Acoustic Surface“, which sees the sound being emitted from the whole of the screen.

Sony Bravia

Sony creates a 3D sound scape by pairing the objects you’re viewing on the screen to the sound that they are making. For example, if you were watching a movie where a car drives across the screen, the sound will follow the movement of the car, adding a whole new level of immersion to your home entertainment experience. The screen transmits sound through two transducers which are located on the back of screen. These generate vibrations onto the area of the screen that’s required to transmit the sound. Despite the BRAVIA screen working as both a screen and a speaker, it remains impressively streamline. The display also comes with clean cable management to keep wires out of view. The technology could eventually expand to include LED screens, but Sony don’t have any plans do this just yet, as the multiple layers that make up a LED screen makes it harder to retain the picture and audio quality.

By truly fusing together the image and sound, Sony’s new BRAVIA TV gives a heightened TV viewing experience without you having to set up a complex system of surround sound speakers.


Graphene Detects Early Cancer

What can’t graphene do? You can scratch “detect cancer” off of that list. By interfacing brain cells onto graphene, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have shown they can differentiate a single hyperactive cancerous cell from a normal cell, pointing the way to developing a simple, noninvasive tool for early cancer diagnosis.

graphene-cancer-detectionNormal and cancerous brain cells interfaced with graphene show different activity levels under Raman imaging.
This graphene system is able to detect the level of activity of an interfaced cell,” says Vikas Berry, associate professor and head of chemical engineering at UIC, who led the research along with Ankit Mehta, assistant professor of clinical neurosurgery in the UIC College of Medicine.
The cell’s interface with graphene rearranges the charge distribution in graphene, which modifies the energy of atomic vibration as detected by Raman spectroscopy,” Berry said, referring to a powerful workhorse technique that is routinely used to study graphene. The atomic vibration energy in graphene’s crystal lattice differs depending on whether it’s in contact with a cancer cell or a normal cell, Berry said, because the cancer cell’s hyperactivity leads to a higher negative charge on its surface and the release of more protons.“Graphene is the thinnest known material and is very sensitive to whatever happens on its surface,” Berry said. The nanomaterial is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms linked in a hexagonal chicken-wire pattern, and all the atoms share a cloud of electrons moving freely about the surface.

The study, reported in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, looked at cultured human brain cells, comparing normal astrocytes to their cancerous counterpart, the highly malignant brain tumor glioblastoma multiforme. The technique is now being studied in a mouse model of cancer, with results that are “very promising,” Berry said. “Once a patient has brain tumor surgery, we could use this technique to see if the tumor relapses,” Berry said. “For this, we would need a cell sample we could interface with graphene and look to see if cancer cells are still present.”

The same technique may also work to differentiate between other types of cells or the activity of cells. “We may be able to use it with bacteria to quickly see if the strain is Gram-positive or Gram-negative,” Berry said. “We may be able to use it to detect sickle cells.”

Earlier this year, Berry and other coworkers introduced nanoscale ripples in graphene, causing it to conduct differently in perpendicular directions, useful for electronics. They wrinkled the graphene by draping it over a string of rod-shaped bacteria, then vacuum-shrinking the germs. “We took the earlier work and sort of flipped it over,” Berry said. “Instead of laying graphene on cells, we laid cells on graphene and studied graphene’s atomic vibrations.”

Co-authors on the study are Bijentimala Keisham and Phong Nguyen of UIC chemical engineering and Arron Cole of UIC neurosurgery.


How To Erase Chips Remotely

A military drone flying on a reconnaissance mission is captured behind enemy lines, setting into motion a team of engineers who need to remotely delete sensitive information carried on the drone’s chips. Because the chips are optical and not electronic, the engineers can now simply flash a beam of UV light onto the chip to instantly erase all content. Disaster averted.

This James Bond-esque chip is closer to reality because of a new development in a nanomaterial developed by Yuebing Zheng, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering. His team described its findings in the journal Nano Letters.


The molecules in this material are very sensitive to light, so we can use a UV light or specific light wavelengths to erase or create optical components,” Zheng said. “Potentially, we could incorporate this LED into the chip and erase its contents wirelessly. We could even time it to disappear after a certain period of time.”

To test their innovation, the researchers used a green laser to develop a waveguide — a structure or tunnel that guides light waves from one point to another — on their nanomaterial. They then erased the waveguide with a UV light, and re-wrote it on the same material using the green laser. The researchers believe they are the first to rewrite a waveguide, which is a crucial photonic component and a building block for integrated circuits, using an all-optical technique.


Electronics: How To Dissipate Heat in A Nanocomputer

Controlling the flow of heat through semiconductor materials is an important challenge in developing smaller and faster computer chips, high-performance solar panels, and better lasers and biomedical devices. For the first time, an international team of scientists led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has modified the energy spectrum of acoustic phononselemental excitations, also referred to as quasi-particles, that spread heat through crystalline materials like a wave—by confining them to nanometer-scale semiconductor structures. The results have important implications in the thermal management of electronic devices. Led by Alexander Balandin, Professor of Electrical and Computing Engineering and UC Presidential Chair Professor in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, the research is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.


The team used semiconductor nanowires from Gallium Arsenide (GaAs), synthesized by researchers in Finland, and an imaging technique called Brillouin-Mandelstam light scattering spectroscopy (BMS) to study the movement of phonons through the crystalline nanostructures. By changing the size and the shape of the GaAs nanostructures, the researchers were able to alter the energy spectrum, or dispersion, of acoustic phonons. The BMS instrument used for this study was built at UCR’s Phonon Optimized Engineered Materials (POEM) Center, which is directed by Balandin.

Controlling phonon dispersion is crucial for improving heat removal from nanoscale electronic devices, which has become the major roadblock in allowing engineers to continue to reduce their size. It can also be used to improve the efficiency of thermoelectric energy generation, Balandin said. In that case, decreasing thermal conductivity by phonons is beneficial for thermoelectric devices that generate energy by applying a temperature gradient to semiconductors.

For years, the only envisioned method of changing the thermal conductivity of nanostructures was via acoustic phonon scattering with nanostructure boundaries and interfaces. We demonstrated experimentally that by spatially confining acoustic phonons in nanowires one can change their velocity, and the way they interact with electrons, magnons, and how they carry heat. Our work creates new opportunities for tuning thermal and electronic properties of semiconductor materials,” Balandin said.


Supersonic spray delivers high-quality graphene layer

A simple, inexpensive spray method that deposits a graphene film can heal manufacturing defects and produce a high-quality graphene layer on a range of substrates, report researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC and Korea UniversityGraphene, a two-dimensional wonder-material composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, is strong, transparent, and an excellent conductor of electricity. It has potential in a wide range of applications, such as reinforcing and lending electrical properties to plastics; creating denser and faster integrated circuits; and building better touch screens.

Although the potential uses for graphene seem limitless, there has been no easy way to scale up from microscopic to large-scale applications without introducing defects, says Alexander Yarin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and co-principal investigator on the study.


Normally, graphene is produced in small flakes, and even these small flakes have defects,” Yarin said. Worse, when you try to deposit them onto a large-scale area, defects increase, and graphene’s useful properties — its “magic” — are lost, he said.

Yarin first turned to solving how to deposit graphene flakes to form a consistent layer without any clumps or spaces. He went to Sam S. Yoon, professor of mechanical engineering at Korea University and co-principal investigator on the study. Yoon had been working with a unique kinetic spray deposition system that exploits the supersonic acceleration of droplets through a Laval nozzle. Although Yoon was working with different materials, Yarin believed his method might be used to deposit graphene flakes into a smooth layer.

Their supersonic spray system produces very small droplets of graphene suspension, which disperse evenly, evaporate rapidly, and reduce the tendency of the graphene flakes to aggregate. But to the researchers’ surprise, defects inherent in the flakes themselves disappeared, as a by-product of the spray method. The result was a higher quality graphene layer. The energy of the impact stretches the graphene and restructures the arrangement of its carbon atoms into the perfect hexagons of flawless graphene.

Imagine something like Silly Putty hitting a wall — it stretches out and spreads smoothly,” said Yarin. “That’s what we believe happens with these graphene flakes. They hit with enormous kinetic energy, and stretch in all directions. “We’re tapping into graphene’s plasticity — it’s actually restructuring.”

Their study is available online in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.