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  • 2017-09-20 16:30:24
  • Article ID: 681528

Scientists Make Atoms-Thick Post-It Notes for Solar Cells and Circuits

  • A new method allows scientists to craft individual tiny films, each just a few atoms high, and stack them for new kinds of electronics.

  • A stack of films, shown in cross-section using an electron microscope. Each is only a few atoms thick.

Over the past half-century, scientists have shaved silicon films down to just a wisp of atoms in pursuit of smaller, faster electronics. For the next set of breakthroughs, though, they’ll need novel ways to build even tinier and more powerful devices.  

In a study published Sept. 20 in Nature, UChicago and Cornell University researchers describe an innovative method to make stacks of semiconductors just a few atoms thick. The technique offers scientists and engineers a simple, cost-effective method to make thin, uniform layers of these materials, which could expand capabilities for devices from solar cells to cell phones.

Stacking thin layers of materials offers a range of possibilities for making electronic devices with unique properties. But manufacturing such films is a delicate process, with little room for error.

“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any air bubbles in it,” said Jiwoong Park, a UChicago professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute, who led the study. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem.”

Today, these layers are “grown” instead of stacking them on top of one another. But that means the bottom layers have to be subjected to harsh growth conditions such as high temperatures while the new ones are added—a process that limits the materials with which to make them.

Park’s team instead made the films individually. Then they put them into a vacuum, peeled them off and stuck them to one another, like Post-It notes. This allowed the scientists to make films that were connected with weak bonds instead of stronger covalent bonds—interfering less with the perfect surfaces between the layers.

“The films, vertically controlled at the atomic-level, are exceptionally high-quality over entire wafers,” said Kibum Kang, a postdoctoral associate who was the first author of the study.

The method opens up a myriad of possibilities for such films. They can be made on top of water or plastics; they can be made to detach by dipping them into water; and they can be carved or patterned with an ion beam. Researchers are exploring the full range of what can be done with the method, which they said is simple and cost-effective.

“We expect this new method to accelerate the discovery of novel materials, as well as enabling large-scale manufacturing,” Park said.

Citation: “Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures,” Kang et. al, Nature, Sept. 20. doi: 10.1038/nature23905.

Funding: U.S. Air Force, National Science Foundation and the National Research Foundation of Korea. The research used the MRSEC Shared User Facilities at UChicago and Cornell and the Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility at UChicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering.

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Scientists Discover Path to Improving Game-Changing Battery Electrode

Researchers from Stanford University, two Department of Energy national labs and the battery manufacturer Samsung created a comprehensive picture of how the same chemical processes that give cathodes their high capacity are also linked to changes in atomic structure that sap performance.

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WVU Physicists Among Collaborators Granted $7 Million to Form U.S. Department of Energy Center of Excellence

Scientists pause each afternoon at Kirtland Air Force Base in Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, awaiting the daily lightning flash and unmistakable floor jolt that accompanies a Z shot

US Dept. Of Energy Grant to Advance Combined Heat and Power Systems in the Midwest

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CEBAF Begins Operations following Upgrade Completion

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Chory and Walter Awarded Breakthrough Prizes

HHMI Investigators Joanne Chory and Peter Walter are among five scientists honored for transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.

Shantenu Jha Named Chair of Brookhaven Lab's Center for Data-Driven Discovery

Jha--a computational scientist who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor at Rutgers University--will lead a center that provides the focal point for data science research and development.

Five Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named 2017 American Physical Society Fellows

Anatoly Frenkel, Morgan May, Rachid Nouicer, Eric Stach, and Peter Steinberg were recognized for their outstanding contributions to astrophysics, materials physics, and nuclear physics.


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Underappreciated Microbes Now Get Credit for Holding Down Two Jobs in Soil

Soil microbes work as both decomposers and synthesizers of carbon compounds in soil, offering new answers with impacts to crops and eco-health.

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Photosynthesis without Cells: Turning Light into Fuel

An entirely human-made architecture produces hydrogen fuel using light, shows promise for transmitting energy in numerous applications.

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Novel defect control in graphene enables direct imaging of trapped electrons that follow Einstein's rules.

A Molecular Zipper for Efficient Gas Separation

Metal-organic frameworks with chains of iron centers adsorb and release carbon monoxide with very little energy input.


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