Norwegian researchers are the world’s first to develop a method for producing semiconductors from graphene. This finding may revolutionise the technology industry and could see the super material commercialized in the next five years. Developed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Ordinarily, electronics are made with silicon semiconductors that are rigid, opaque, and about half a millimeter thick. Thanks to research being carried out at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, however, that may be about to change. Led by Dr. Helge Weman and Prof. Bjørn-Ove Fimland, a team there has developed a method of making semiconductors out of graphene. At a thickness of just one micrometer, they are flexible and transparent. Also, because they require so little raw material, they should be considerably cheaper to manufacture than their silicon counterparts.
The method involves growing semiconductor-nanowires on graphene. To achieve this, researchers “bomb” the graphene surface with gallium atoms and arsenic molecules, thereby creating a network of minute nanowires.
The result is a one-micrometre thick hybrid material which acts as a semiconductor. By comparison, the silicon semiconductors in use today are several hundred times thicker. The semiconductors’ ability to conduct electricity may be affected by temperature, light or the addition of other atoms.
Graphene, for anyone who still doesn’t know, is a material made up of a one-atom thick sheet of hexagonally-linked carbon atoms. It is very electrically-conductive, inexpensive to produce, and is simultaneously the thinnest material in existence yet also one of the strongest.
To create the semiconductors, the Norwegian team starts by “bombing” a graphene substrate with gallium atoms, within a vacuum chamber. Those atoms stick to the graphene, and clump together with one another to form gallium droplets. On the underside of each droplet, where it meets the graphene, the gallium atoms naturally arrange themselves to match the hexagonal pattern of the graphene.
Next, arsenic molecules are also introduced to the graphene sheet, as the gallium atoms continue to rain down. Both arsenic molecules and gallium atoms are absorbed into the existing gallium droplets. Once inside a droplet, the arsenic travels to the bottom, where it combines with the gallium atoms. They form into a crystalline structure, on the bottom of the droplet.
The inventors state that this could be used in flexible and efficient solar cells and light emitting diodes.
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