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Graphene ‘nano-origami’ could make smallest microchips ever

Professional Engineering

Image reveals the kink in the form of wrinkles that causes change in Raman signals of altered electronic property
Image reveals the kink in the form of wrinkles that causes change in Raman signals of altered electronic property

Physicists at the University of Sussex have developed a technique for making tiny microchips from graphene and other 2D materials, using a form of ‘nano-origami’.

The development, detailed in research published in the ACS Nano Journal, could lead to computers and phones that run thousands of times faster.

By creating kinks in the structure of the graphene, the researchers were able to make the nanomaterial behave like a transistor. When a strip of graphene is kinked in this way, it acts like a microchip, but one that is 100 times smaller than conventional microchips. 

“We’re mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene,” says Professor Alan Dalton of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. “It’s a bit like nano-origami. Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster. It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology. Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future.”

Dalton calls this kind of technology ‘straintronics’ and says that using nanomaterials will allow space for more chips inside any device. “Everything we want to do with computers – to speed them up – can be done by crinkling graphene like this.”

Dr Manoj Tripathi, a Research Fellow in Nano-structured Materials at the University of Sussex and lead author on the paper, adds: “Instead of having to add foreign materials into a device, we’ve shown we can create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate kinks into the structure. By making this sort of corrugation we can create a smart electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate."

It could also be greener and more sustainable, as the process runs at room temperature and no additional materials need to be added, it uses less energy than traditional microchip manufacture.

The paper “Structural Defects Modulate Electronic and Nanomechanical Properties of 2D Materials” is published in ACS Nano.


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