Breakthrough in 'wonder' materials paves way for flexible tech and IoT capabilities

Gadgets are set to become flexible, highly efficient and much smaller, following a breakthrough in measuring two-dimensional 'wonder' materials.

Dr Neil Wilson in the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick in the UK has developed a new technique to measure the electronic structures of stacks of two-dimensional materials.

Breakthrough in 'wonder' materials paves way for flexible tech and IoT capabilities ZDNet
Gabriel Constantinescu

These materials are flat, atomically thin, highly conductive, and extremely strong, and have been measured for the first time.

He formulated the technique in collaboration with colleagues in the theory groups at the University of Warwick and University of Cambridge, at the University of Washington in Seattle, and the Elettra Light Source, near Trieste in Italy.

Researchers measured the electronic structure of stacks of 2D 'wonder' materials. Dr Wilson predicts that electronic devices are set to become smaller, flexible and highly efficient.

The paper, 'Determination of band offsets, hybridization, and exciton binding in 2D semiconductor heterostructures', is published in Science Advances.

It shows that the technique combined with "careful sample design provides invaluable information for realizing the potential of 2D semiconductor heterostructures.

It will enable the local electronic structure and chemical potential to be determined in all types of other 2D materials and devices".

Multiple stacked layers of 2D materials - known as 'heterostructures' - create highly efficient optoelectronic devices with ultrafast electrical charge. These materials can be used in nano-circuits, and are stronger than materials used in traditional circuits.

The ability to understand and quantify how 2D material heterostructures work - and to create optimal semiconductor structures - paves the way for the development of highly efficient nano-circuitry, and smaller, flexible, more wearable gadgets.

Understanding the electronic structures will allow scientists to find optimal materials for efficient semiconductors in nano-circuitry.

Various heterostructures have been created using different 2D materials. Stacking different combinations of 2D materials creates new materials with new properties.

Dr Wilson's technique measures the electronic properties of each layer in a stack, allowing researchers to establish the optimal structure for the fastest, most efficient transfer of electrical energy.

The technique uses the photoelectric effect to directly measure the momentum of electrons within each layer and shows how this changes when the layers are combined.

Solar power could also be revolutionised with heterostructures. The atomically thin layers allow for strong absorption and efficient power conversion with a minimal amount of photovoltaic material. This could bring solar power to mobile devices and other gadgets in daily use.

Introducing nano-circuitry could revolutionise the hardware needed for the Internet of Things (IoT).

Bringing flexibility into gadget design will enable practically any object, or animal to be fitted with an IoT enabled sensor and open up a wealth of possibility for analysis. Flexible screens and devices are just the beginning of this revolution.

Dr Wilson said: "It is extremely exciting to be able to see, for the first time, how interactions between atomically thin layers change their electronic structure.

This work also demonstrates the importance of an international approach to research; we would not have been able to achieve this outcome without our colleagues in the USA and Italy."

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