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Engineers grow graphene nanoribbons

17 Aug 2015

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Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a means to make graphene nanoribbons with desirable semiconducting properties on a conventional germanium semiconductor wafer, enabling the use of graphene in high-performance electronics.

With this technique, manufacturers could easily use graphene nanoribbons in hybrid integrated circuits, which can improve the performance of next-generation electronic devices. In addition, this technology could find useful industrial and military applications, such as sensors that detect specific chemical and biological species and photonic devices that manipulate light.

Graphene nanoribbon

Artist's rendering of the "armchair" edges on the narrow graphene nanoribbons deposited on a germanium substrate at the University of Wisconsin. (Source: University of Wisconsin)

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, Michael Arnold, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, Ph.D. student Robert Jacobberger and their collaborators describe their new approach to producing graphene nanoribbons. Importantly, their technique can easily be scaled for mass production and is compatible with the prevailing infrastructure used in semiconductor processing.

"Graphene nanoribbons that can be grown directly on the surface of a semiconductor like germanium are more compatible with planar processing that's used in the semiconductor industry, and so there would be less of a barrier to integrating these really excellent materials into electronics in the future," Arnold says.

Graphene, a sheet of carbon atoms that is only one atom thick, conducts electricity and dissipates heat much more efficiently than silicon, the material most commonly found in today's computer chips. But to exploit graphene's remarkable electronic properties in semiconductor applications where current must be switched on and off, graphene nanoribbons need to be less than 10nm wide, which is phenomenally narrow. Also, the nanoribbons must have smooth, well-defined "armchair" edges in which the carbon-carbon bonds are parallel to the length of the ribbon.


Close-up of the narrow nanoribbon deposited on a germanium substrate (with dotted lines overlaid to indicate the edges of the nanoribbon. (Source: University of Wisconsin)

Researchers have typically fabricated nanoribbons by using lithographic techniques to cut larger sheets of graphene into ribbons. However, this "top-down" fabrication approach lacks precision and produces nanoribbons with very rough edges.

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