Graphene is a form of carbon. Many people think it could be a missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating electronics that are sleeker, more efficient and able to perform well but consume less power.
Graphene has been intensively studied over the last decade. Even a sheet of grapheme that’s just one atom thick might help facilitate the creation of cheaper solar cells and bioelectric sensory devices that are better than their predecessors. And, that’s just the beginning.
However, until recently, the methods used to fabricate graphene were not compatible with silicone microelectronics.
Korean Researchers Find a Breakthrough
Researchers at Seoul’s Korea University appear to have made an important discovery that could change how graphene is used in the future and the way in which it is created.
The researchers have come up with a simple method of growing graphene on silicone substrates that work with microelectronic circuits. Furthermore, the multilayer graphene is just four inches in diameter and very high quality.
When graphene is used in silicone microelectronics applications, the graphene functions as an interconnection material and potential contact electrode. It links semiconductor devices so that electrical circuits are created. Scientists now know that high-temperature processing techniques aren’t feasible because they may cause damage.
What’s Different about This New Method?
Korea University’s team of researchers came up with a process that’s dependent on ion implantation, a technique most commonly associated with the introduction of impurities to semiconductors. When working with semiconductors, scientists and engineers often use silicone wafer polishing templates to stimulate a mechanical and chemical reaction.
Together, carbon ions, and a nickel layer that is very carbon soluble act as a catalyst for growing the graphene. The ions are accelerated under an electrical field and then put onto a semiconductor. As a result, the ions change the electrical, chemical and physical properties of the semiconductor.
An activation annealing follows, which must occur at temperatures ranging from about 600-900 degrees Celsius (over 1,100 – 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit). That creates a honeycomb-shaped lattice structure of graphene that looks similar to how graphene typically appears when studied under a microscope.
It’s important to note that this new process for growing graphene is a transfer-free technique. This is good news because, ordinarily, when moved onto a substrate, graphene may crack or become wrinkled. Contamination is also a frequent problem. Since this new option does not involve transferring, researchers are confident it’ll result in graphene that’s of a higher-quality variety overall.
A More Flexible Future for Graphene?
The researchers say that this technique for growing graphene is easy to control and very scalable. When things go as planned, it’s possible to grow graphene that’s as large as a silicone wafer.
However, despite this promising progress, the researchers are not done honing the process. Specifically, they want to figure out ways to exert more control over the thickness of the graphene and lower the production temperatures.
Possible Applications for Graphene
In addition to working well in microelectronics applications, experts say graphene is also well-suited to LCD displays and touchscreen devices.
Since graphene is highly conductive and a good transmitter of light, you may hear about it being used as a component in tablet screens and TVs, especially if this new growing method allows graphene to be produced on a commercial scale with reliable results.
Furthermore, existing studies of graphene suggest it may eventually surpass silicone as a leading material used to make photovoltaic cells. Graphene is flexible and thin, plus it works on all wavelengths of light. Eventually, you may have gadgets that can depend on graphene to recharge using solar power.
Although more research must be carried out, this recent development is an important milestone in making graphene a more commercially viable material.
Photo credit: Rede Galega de Biomateriais / Wikipedia
Kayla Mathews is a writer and blogger with a passion for technology and gadgets. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter to get updates on all of her latest posts.