Breakthrough in nanosheets: Better sensors, computers and batteries

Researchers developed a new way of splitting materials to make nanosheets. It's cheap and can be scaled up for mass production! Could this method revolutionize electronics?
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Sure...graphene has been getting all the love lately as the material of choice that could someday usher in a whole new generation of electronics and replace silicon.

But there's another type of material that is garnering some well-deserved attention: nanosheets might hold the key to the next generation electronics.

Researchers have figured out how to split materials into one atom thick sheets, unlocking some special properties that could really spice up some electronic capabilities. The process can make billions of nanosheets in hours, opening the door to producing this on a large-scale.

For instance, the nanosheets could be used to produce batteries that act as supercapacitors, super-strong materials and hybrid computing technology.

Oxford University's professor Valeria Nicolosi said in a statement:

But in fact there are hundreds of other layered materials that could enable us to create powerful new technologies.

Boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide are some possibilities. All the researchers need to do is change the order of the atoms in the material to manipulate its properties.

The new composite materials can be used in a number of new electronic and energy applications with custom-made metallic and semi-metallic properties. The method is pretty standard in the jewelry cleaning industry at least. In this case, the researchers used solvents and ultrasound to cut the sheets into thin layers.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford published their results in Science. Trinity College’s professor Jonathan Coleman thinks that if the materials were incorporated into devices, then the electronics could generate electricity from waste heat. This way, heat loss can be recycled.

Fiddling with atoms to change the material's electronic property is nothing new. Researchers have been doing this all along. It's just that it has always been really tedious to create the materials in the lab.

This new method might change that. Nicolosi, again:

Our new method offers low-costs, a very high yield and a very large throughput: within a couple of hours, and with just 1 mg of material, billions and billions of one-atom-thick graphene-like nanosheets can be made at the same time from a  wide variety of exotic layered materials.

Another good thing about the layered material is that it can be sprayed onto other materials. The thin films could give sensors and computers special properties. It would give electric cars extra juice and next generation batteries could function a thousand times faster than regular batteries.

Shane Bergin, a chemist at Imperial College London, who was also part of the study, said:

It is amazing to think that something the size of atoms can have so much potential, and yet nanosheets could one day provide the basis for a whole new revolution in computing and electronics, which could rival the silicon based technology that we use today. Our study is the first step towards realizing the potential of nanosheets as the building blocks for tomorrow’s technology.

Photo: Oxford University and Imperial College London

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