Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Team reports scalable fabrication of self-aligned graphene transistors, circuits

Graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of graphitic carbon, has the potential to make consumer electronic devices faster and smaller. But its unique properties, and the shrinking scale of electronics, also make graphene difficult to fabricate and to produce on a large scale.

In September 2010, a UCLA research team reported that they had overcome some of these difficulties and were able to fabricate graphene transistors with unparalleled speed. These transistors used a nanowire as the self-aligned gate -- the element that switches the transistor between various states. But the scalability of this approach remained an open question.

Now the researchers, using equipment from the Nanoelectronics Research Facility and the Center for High Frequency Electronics at UCLA, report that they have developed a scalable approach to fabricating these high-speed graphene transistors.

The team used a dielectrophoresis assembly approach to precisely place nanowire gate arrays on large-area chemical vapor deposition-growth graphene -- as opposed to mechanically peeled graphene flakes -- to enable the rational fabrication of high-speed transistor arrays. They were able to do this on a glass substrate, minimizing parasitic delay and enabling graphene transistors with extrinsic cut-off frequencies exceeding 50 GHz. Typical high-speed graphene transistors are fabricated on silicon or semi-insulating silicon carbide substrates that tend to bleed off electric charge, leading to extrinsic cut-off frequencies of around 10 GHz or less.

Taking an additional step, the UCLA team was able to use these graphene transistors to construct radio-frequency circuits functioning up to 10 GHz, a substantial improvement from previous reports of 20 MHz.

The research opens a rational pathway to scalable fabrication of high-speed, self-aligned graphene transistors and functional circuits and it demonstrates for the first time a graphene transistor with a practical (extrinsic) cutoff frequency beyond 50 GHz.

This represents a significant advance toward graphene-based, radio-frequency circuits that could be used in a variety of devices, including radios, computers and mobile phones. The technology might also be used in wireless communication, imaging and radar technologies.

The UCLA research team included Xiangfeng Duan, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Yu Huang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science; Lei Liao; Jingwei Bai; Rui Cheng; Hailong Zhou; Lixin Liu; and Yuan Liu.

Duan and Huang are also researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

The work was funded by grants from National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The research was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Nano Letters.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations) from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. The original article was written by Mike Rodewald.

Journal Reference:

Lei Liao, Jingwei Bai, Rui Cheng, Hailong Zhou, Lixin Liu, Yuan Liu, Yu Huang, Xiangfeng Duan. Scalable fabrication of self-aligned graphene transistors and circuits on glass. Nano Letters, 2011; 110607115253088 DOI: 10.1021/nl201922c

New insights on an old material will enable design of better polymer batteries, water purification

Designing new materials depends upon understanding the properties of today's materials. One such material, Nafion ©, is a polymer that efficiently conducts ions (a polymer electrolyte) and water through its nanostructure, making it important for many energy-related industrial applications, including in fuel cells, organic batteries, and reverse-osmosis water purification. But since Nafion was invented 50 years ago, scientists have only been able to speculate about how to build new materials because they have not been able to see details on how the molecules come together and work within Nafion.

Now, two Virginia Tech research groups have combined forces to devise a way to measure Nafion's internal structure and, in the process, have discovered how to manipulate this structure to enhance the material's applications.

The research is published in the June 19 issue of Nature Materials in the Letters article, "Linear coupling of alignment with transport in a polymer electrolyte membrane," by Jing Li, Jong Keun Park, Robert B. Moore, and Louis A. Madsen, all with the chemistry department in the College of Science and the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute at Virginia Tech.

Nafion is made up of molecules that combine the non-stick and tough nature of Teflon with the conductive properties of an acid, such as battery acid. A network of tiny channels, nanometers in size, carries water or ions quickly through the polymer. "But, due to the irregular structure of Nafion, scientists have not been able to get reliable information about its properties using most standard analysis tools, such as transmission electron microscopy," said Madsen, assistant professor of physical, polymer, and materials chemistry.

Madsen and Moore, professor of physical and polymer chemistry; Madsen's post-doctoral associate Jing Li; and Moore's Ph.D. student Jong Keun Park, of Korea, were able to use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)to measure molecular motion, and a combination of NMR and X-ray scattering to measure molecular alignment within Nafion. "We were looking at water molecules inside Nafion as internal reporters of structure and efficiency of conduction," said Madsen. "The new feature we discovered is the locally aligned aggregates of polymer molecules in the material. The molecules align like strands of dry spaghetti lined up in a box. We can measure the speed (diffusion) of the water molecules and the direction they travel within those structures, which relates strongly to the alignment of the polymer molecule strands."

The researchers observed that the alignment of the channels influenced the speed and preferential direction of water motion. And a startlingly clear picture presented itself when the scientists stretched the Nafion and measured its structure and water motion.

"Stretching drastically influences the degree of alignment," said Madsen. "So the molecules move faster along the direction of the stretch, and in a very predictable way. These materials actually share some properties with liquid crystals -- molecules that line up with each other and are used in every LCD television, projector, and screen."

These relationships have not been previously recognized in a polymer electrolyte, Madsen said.

The ability to observe motion and direction, and understand what is happening within Nafion, has implications for using the material in new ways, and for designing new materials, the researchers write in the Nature Materials article. Ion-based applications could include actuator devices such as artificial muscles, organic batteries, and more energy efficient fuel cells. A water-based application would be improved reverse osmosis membranes for water purification.

Madsen and Moore started this collaborative project shortly after they arrived at Virginia Tech (Madsen in 2006, Moore in 2007), and they are furthering their work together by investigating new polymeric materials using their unique combination of analysis techniques.

"Alignment provides for a better flow of the molecules through the polymer," Madsen said.

The research is supported by Madsen's National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. His research focuses on improving advanced polymers for fuel cells and reverse-osmosis water purification by combining detailed analysis of these materials with theoretical understanding. The research is also supported by the US Army Research Office under Ionic Liquids in Electro-Active Devices (ILEAD) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations) from materials provided by Virginia Tech, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:

Jing Li, Jong Keun Park, Robert B. Moore and Louis A. Madsen. Linear coupling of alignment with transport in a polymer electrolyte membrane. Nature Materials, June 19 2011 DOI: 10.1038/NMAT3048

Nanotechnology circuits for wireless devices: First wafer-scale graphene integrated circuit smaller than a pinhead

IBM Research scientists have announced that they have achieved a milestone in creating a building block for the future of wireless devices. In a paper published in the journal Science, IBM researchers announced the first integrated circuit fabricated from wafer-size graphene, and demonstrated a broadband frequency mixer operating at frequencies up to 10 gigahertz (10 billion cycles/second).

Designed for wireless communications, this graphene-based analog integrated circuit could improve today's wireless devices and points to the potential for a new set of applications. At today's conventional frequencies, cell phone and transceiver signals could be improved, potentially allowing phones to work where they can't today while, at much higher frequencies, military and medical personnel could see concealed weapons or conduct medical imaging without the same radiation dangers of X-rays.

Graphene, the thinnest electronic material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms packed in a honeycomb structure, possesses outstanding electrical, optical, mechanical and thermal properties that could make it less expensive and use less energy inside portable electronics like smart phones.

Despite significant scientific progress in the understanding of this novel material and the demonstration of high-performance graphene-based devices, the challenge of integrating graphene transistors with other components on a single chip had not been realized until now, mostly due to poor adhesion of graphene with metals and oxides and the lack of reliable fabrication schemes to yield reproducible devices and circuits.

This new integrated circuit, consisting of a graphene transistor and a pair of inductors compactly integrated on a silicon carbide (SiC) wafer, overcomes these design hurdles by developing wafer-scale fabrication procedures that maintain the quality of graphene and, at the same time, allow for its integration to other components in a complex circuitry.

How it Works

In this demonstration, graphene is synthesized by thermal annealing of SiC wafers to form uniform graphene layers on the surface of SiC. The fabrication of graphene circuits involves four layers of metal and two layers of oxide to form top-gated graphene transistor, on-chip inductors and interconnects.

The circuit operates as a broadband frequency mixer, which produces output signals with mixed frequencies (sum and difference) of the input signals. Mixers are fundamental components of many electronic communication systems. Frequency mixing up to 10 GHz and excellent thermal stability up to 125°C has been demonstrated with the graphene integrated circuit.

The fabrication scheme developed can also be applied to other types of graphene materials, including chemical vapor deposited (CVD) graphene films synthesized on metal films, and are also compatible with optical lithography for reduced cost and throughput.

Previously, the team has demonstrated standalone graphene transistors with a cut-off frequency as high as 100 GHz and 155 GHz for epitaxial and CVD graphene, for a gate length of 240 and 40 nm, respectively.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations ) from materials provided by IBM Research.

Journal Reference:

Y.-M. Lin, A. Valdes-Garcia, S.-J. Han, D. B. Farmer, I. Meric, Y. Sun, Y. Wu, C. Dimitrakopoulos, A. Grill, P. Avouris, K. A. Jenkins. Wafer-Scale Graphene Integrated Circuit. Science, 2011; 332 (6035): 1294 DOI: 10.1126/science.1204428

Chirality: New method to consistently make left-handed or right-handed molecules

 Many organic molecules are non-superimposable with their mirror image. The two forms of such a molecule are called enantiomers and can have different properties in biological systems. The problem is to control which enantiomer you want to produce -- a problem that has proved to be important in the pharmaceutical industry. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have now come up with a new method to control the process.

"Organic chemists think that it's impossible to create only one of the enantiomers without introducing some kind of optical activity into the reaction, but I've succeeded," says Theonitsa Kokoli at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Chemistry. "My method will allow the industry to produce the version they want without the use of a catalyst."

The phenomenon of non-superimposable mirror-image molecular structures is known as chirality. The two enantiomers can be compared to a pair of hands; they are non-superimposable mirror images of each other. A consequence of the different properties in biological systems is that a molecule can behave either as Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde. The different characteristics in the enantiomers can be harmless, like in the limonene molecule. One enantiomer smells like orange and the other like lemon.

Thalidomide is a good example of how different forms of the same molecule can have disastrous consequences. One of the enantiomers was calming and eased nausea in pregnant women, while the other caused serious damage to the fetus. The thalidomide catastrophe is one of the reasons that a lot of research is devoted to chirality, as it is absolutely vital to be able to control which form of the molecule that is produced. Research on chirality has resulted in several Nobel Prizes over the years.

In biomolecules like DNA and proteins only one of the enantiomers exists in nature. In contrast to biomolecules, the same does not apply when chiral compounds are created synthetically in the lab. Generally an equal amount of both enantiomers is produced. One way of creating an excess of one enantiomer is to use a chiral catalyst, but this only transfers the properties that are already present in the catalyst.

"I've been working with absolute asymmetric synthesis instead, where optical activity is created," says Kokoli. "This is considered impossible by many organic chemists. I've used crystals in my reactions, where the two forms have crystallised as separate crystals, which in itself is fairly unusual. The product that was formed after the reactions comprised just one enantiomer."

While the results of Kokoli's research are particularly significant for the pharmaceuticals industry, they can also be used in the production of flavourings and aromas.

The thesis has been successfully defended on May 6, 2011.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations ) from materials provided by University of Gothenburg.