It is a short step from the era of silicon to graphene era…
Graphene is made of a single carbon atom layer and constitutes the thinnest material the man has synthetized ever. Moreover, with a set of extraordinary physical, chemical and mechanic properties, it is destined to be the “material of the future”, particularly in electronics. Italian researchers have announced a very innovative manufacturing process of graphene that preserves its unique properties in an article published in Nature Journal.
The experiment, that paves the way to a new generation of technological devices, was conducted at the research centre Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste by an Italian team comprising colleagues at the National Research Council (CNR) and researchers from the United Kingdom, Denmark and Spain.
“This material – explains project coordinator Alessandro Baraldi (in the picture), professor of Matter Physics at the University of Trieste – has a remarkable electron mobility at room temperature although this only occurs when it is isolated. In electronic devices (smartphones, flexible displays, fuel cells) that increasingly require its use, in fact, these properties would be fatally compromised during the transfer from metallic surfaces where it is grown, to surfaces of non-conducting materials or semiconductors it is matched with”.
How is it possible then to preserve graphene properties when used for devices? This led Baraldi and his colleagues to implement an innovative method to preserve it exactly as it is even in industrial manufacturing. In fact, the international team has designed a technique that creates a sort of “sandwich” made of an extremely thin aluminium oxide sheet placed in the interface between a metallic surface and the “wonder material”, as experts and graphene enthusiasts defined the new material, since they are sure it will generously “nourish” increasingly energy-hungry electronic devices of the future.
“We grew graphene on a nickel-aluminium alloy surface – explains study first author Luca Omiciuolo, a doctoral student in Nanotechnologies at Trieste – then, we selectively oxidized aluminium atoms underneath graphene until obtaining nearly a 2-nanometers thick aluminium oxide sheet. The result was so favourable that electronic properties that make graphene unique when isolated have been fully restored. Our high-quality graphene is thus laid upon an extremely thin oxide sheet being this an ideal combination to use it in electronic devices”.
“The experiment success – Baraldi highlights – marks a crucial step in the combined use of bimetallic alloys and graphene, an activity in which researchers from our university with colleagues at Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste have been involved for many years”. Apart from the very low cost of gases and elements used, the advantage of this solution is that it is a very simple process that can be easily adapted to the electronic industry. We are proud to have added a new piece to a tricky puzzle. When completed, it will finally allow us to move from the era of silicon to the era of graphene”.