Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new method for chemically altering graphene, a development that could be a step toward the creation of faster, thinner, flexible electronics.
Highly desired for its many promising attributes, graphene is a one-atom thick, honeycomb-shaped lattice of carbon atoms with exceptional strength and conductivity. Among graphene's many possible applications is electronics: Many experts believe it could rival silicon, transforming integrated circuits and leading to ultra-fast computers, cellphones and related portable electronic devices.
But first, researchers must learn how to tune the electronic properties of graphene -- not an easy feat, given a major challenge intrinsic to the material. Unlike semiconductors such as silicon, pure graphene is a zero band-gap material, making it difficult to electrically "turn off" the flow of current through it. Therefore, pristine graphene is not appropriate for the digital circuitry that comprises the vast majority of integrated circuits.
To overcome this problem and make graphene more functional, researchers around the world are investigating methods for chemically altering the material. The most prevalent strategy is the "Hummers method," a process developed in the 1940s that oxidizes graphene, but that method relies upon harsh acids that irreversibly damage the fabric of the graphene lattice.
Researchers at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science have recently developed a new method to oxidize graphene without the collateral damage encountered in the Hummers method. Their oxidation process is also reversible, which enables further tunability over the resulting properties of their chemically modified graphene.
The paper, "Chemically Homogeneous and Thermally Reversible Oxidation of Epitaxial Graphene," will be published Feb. 19 in the journal Nature Chemistry.
"Performing chemical reaction
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