Graphene, the two-dimensional crystalline form of carbon, is a potential superstar for the electronics industry. With freakishly mobile electrons that can blaze through the material at nearly the speed of light 100 times faster than electrons can move through silicon graphene could be used to make superfast transistors or computer memory chips. Graphene's unique "chicken wire" atomic structure exhibits incredible flexibility and mechanical strength, as well as unusual optical properties that could open a number of promising doors in both the electronics and the photonics industries. However, among the hurdles preventing graphite from joining the pantheon of star high-tech materials, perhaps none looms larger than just learning to make the stuff in high quality and usable quantities.
"Before we can fully utilize the superior electronic properties of graphene in devices, we must first develop a method of forming uniform single-layer graphene films on nonconducting substrates on a large scale," says Yuegang Zhang, a materials scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Current fabrication methods based on mechanical cleavage or ultrahigh vacuum annealing, he says, are ill-suited for commercial-scale production. Graphene films made via solution-based deposition and chemical reduction have suffered from poor or uneven quality.
Zhang and colleagues at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) center for nanoscience, have taken a significant step at clearing this major hurdle. They have successfully used direct chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to synthesize single-layer films of graphene on a dielectric substrate. Zhang and his colleagues made their graphene films by catalytically decomposing hydrocarbon precursors over thin films of copper that had been pre-deposited on the dielectric substrate. The copper films subsequently dewetted (separated into puddles or droplets) and were evaporated. The
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DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory