Thin Nanowires Mean Foldable Tablets

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 @ 12:05 PM gHale

There is a new way to build nanowires just three atoms wide that should help scientists eventually create paper-thin, flexible tablets smartphones.

To create these new nanowires, you have to use a finely focused beam of electrons to build what some of the smallest wires ever made, said Junhao Lin, a Vanderbilt University doctoral student and visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee who made the discovery. The tiny metallic wires are one-thousandth the width of the microscopic wires used today to connect the transistors in integrated computer circuits.

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“It’s at the cutting edge of everything,” said Sokrates Pantelides, Lin’s adviser and the university’s Distinguished Professor of Physics and Engineering. “People have obviously made nanowires, but they often might be 50 or 100 nanometers across. We have nanotubes one nanometer across. These are 0.4 nanometers. I would expect them to be fragile but they’re not at all. They are extremely robust.”

Lin made the nanowires using semiconducting materials that naturally form monolayers, which are layers one molecule thick, Pantelides said.

The materials, called transition-metal dichalcogenides, are the combination of the metals molybdenum or tungsten with either sulfur or selenium, university researchers said. The best-known member of the family is molybdenum disulfide, a common mineral used as a solid lubricant.

Scientists have used transition-metal dichalcogenides to build an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice of atoms that have shown important properties, like electricity, strength and heat conduction, Pantelides said.

Researchers have already created functioning transistors and flash memory gates out this material. By creating tiny nanowires out of this same material, the transistors and flash memory gates can end up connected.

The new nanowires are not stand-alone wires. They end up built into the honeycomb lattice, along with the transistors and gates. It’s all one thin, flexible material, which could end up used to build thin electronics, like smartphones and tablets.

“Looking to the future, we can create a flexible two-dimensional material,” said Pantelides. “You could potentially have screens or pages that are flexible like a sheet of paper. You might be able to fold them and then open them up to see the screen. The material is flexible already because it’s just one layer of atoms.”

Scientists around the world are working on the thin, flexible material, Pantelides said. The tiny nanowires are a key piece that has been missing in this scenario.

“This will likely stimulate a huge research interest in monolayer circuit design,” Lin said.

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