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MATERIAL RESEARCH Porous graphene ribbons that behave like semiconductors

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Florian Richert

A team of researchers is said to have developed ladder-like porous graphene ribbons that behave like semiconductors and feature properties attractive for electronics applications.

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Individual building blocks are heated atop a silver surface in a vacuum to create a porous graphene ribbon with a ladder-like structure and semiconducting properties. Each rung has two carbon atoms replaced with nitrogen atoms (blue).
Individual building blocks are heated atop a silver surface in a vacuum to create a porous graphene ribbon with a ladder-like structure and semiconducting properties. Each rung has two carbon atoms replaced with nitrogen atoms (blue).
(Source: University of Basel)

Since graphene’s discovery, it has been a material of significant research interest because of its properties that make it suitable for a large range of potential applications in electronics and beyond. These properties include brilliant electrical conductivity and high strength and rigidity

Today, researchers are working to build on these characteristics by substituting graphene’s carbon atoms with atoms of different elements. One such team is the one led by Ernst Meyer at the University of Basel who, along with colleagues from the University of Bern, which claims to have succeeded in producing the world’s first graphene ribbons where the crystal lattice contains both periodic pores and a regular pattern of nitrogen atoms.

Individual building blocks are heated atop a silver surface in a vacuum to create a porous graphene ribbon with a ladder-like structure and semiconducting properties. Each rung has two carbon atoms replaced with nitrogen atoms (blue).
Individual building blocks are heated atop a silver surface in a vacuum to create a porous graphene ribbon with a ladder-like structure and semiconducting properties. Each rung has two carbon atoms replaced with nitrogen atoms (blue).
(Source: University of Basel)

Graphene nanoribbons

Graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) are strips of graphene with a width of no more than 50nm. Different to graphene sheets, the so-called wonder material’s more widely known two-dimensional counterpart, the quasi one-dimensional nature of GNRs results in many advantages over them.

Semiconducting properties

In a first for graphene ribbons, the research team also demonstrated that their graphene ribbons behave like semiconductors. Pure graphene is an electrical conductor, however, the team confirmed that this is no longer the case with their graphene ribbons by using scanning tunnelling microscopy. This has also been confirmed by additional theoretical calculations of the material’s electronic properties by researchers at the University of Warwick in England.
"The semiconducting properties are essential for the potential applications in electronics, as their conductivity can be adjusted specifically," said Dr. Rémy Pawlak.

Although additional research is currently outstanding, we know that it is the high concentration of nitrogen atoms in the crystal lattice that causes the graphene ribbons to magnetise when they are exposed to a magnetic field. "We expect these porous, nitrogen-doped graphene ribbons to display extraordinary magnetic properties," says Ernst Meyer. Due to these magnetic properties, some think that the porous graphene ribbons could be used in applications in the quantum computing field, amongst others.

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