Researchers at The University of Manchester and Chernogolovka, Russia have discovered the world's first single-atom-thick fabric, which reveals the existence of a new class of materials and may lead to computers made from a single molecule. The research is to be published in Science on 22 October.
The team led by Professor Andre Geim at The University of Manchester, has succeeded in extracting individual planes of carbon atoms from graphite crystals, which has resulted in the production of the thinnest possible fabric - graphene. The resulting atomic sheet is stable, highly flexible and strong and remarkably conductive. The nanofabric belongs to the family of fullerene molecules, which were discovered during the last two decades, but is the first two-dimensional fullerene.
The researchers concentrate on the electronic properties of carbon nanofabric. By employing the standard microfabrication techniques used, for instance, in manufacturing of computer chips, the team has demonstrated an ambipolar field-effect transistor, which works under ambient conditions. They found that the nanofabric exhibits a remarkable quality such that electrons can travel without any scattering over submicron distances, which is important for making very-fast-switching transistors.
In the quest to make the computer chip more powerful and fast, engineers strive to produce smaller transistors, shortening the paths electrons have to travel to switch the devices on and off. Ultimately, scientists envisage transistors made from a single molecule, and this work brings that vision ever nearer.
In terms of applications, the sort of quality demonstrated by graphene can only be compared with that demonstrated by some nanotubes. Professor Geim commented: "As carbon nanotubes are basically made from rolled-up narrow stripes of graphene, any of the thousands of applications currently considered for nanotubes renowned for their unique properties can also apply to graphene itself."
Although the researchers are currently dealing with patches of graphene that are about ten microns across Professor Geim commented: "Computer engineers will need graphene wafers a few inches in size, before considering graphene as |"the next big thing". However, all the omens are good, as there are no fundamental limitations on the lateral size of carbon nanofabric." Dr Novoselov added: "Only ten years ago carbon nanotubes were less than a micron long. Now, scientists can make nanotubes several centimetres long, and similar progress can reasonably be expected for carbon nanofabric too".
David Glover from University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd commented: "This is clearly an exciting breakthrough with huge potential, and with development graphene could soon compete in many niche markets where low energy consumption and high electron mobility are paramount requirements".
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