October 29, 2004 Researchers at The University of Manchester and Chernogolovka, Russia have discovered the world's first single-atom-thick fabric, which reveals the existence of a new class of materials and may lead to computers made from a single molecule.
The team led by Professor Andre Geim at The University of Manchester, has succeeded in extracting individual planes of carbon atoms from graphite crystals, which has resulted in the production of the thinnest possible fabric - graphene.
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The resulting atomic sheet is stable, highly flexible and strong and remarkably conductive. The nanofabric belongs to the family of fullerene molecules, which were discovered during the last two decades, but is the first two-dimensional fullerene.
The researchers concentrated on the electronic properties of carbon nanofabric. By employing the standard microfabrication techniques used, for instance, in manufacturing of computer chips, the team demonstrated an ambipolar field-effect transistor, which works under ambient conditions. They found that the nanofabric allows electrons to travel without any scattering over submicron distances, which is important for making very-fast-switching transistors.
In the quest to make the computer chip more powerful and fast, engineers strive to produce smaller transistors, shortening the paths electrons have to travel to switch the devices on and off. Ultimately, scientists envisage transistors made from a single molecule, and the work by Professor Geim and his team brings that vision tantalizingly closer.
In terms of applications, the sort of quality demonstrated by graphene can only be compared with that demonstrated by some nanotubes. "As carbon nanotubes are basically made from rolled-up narrow stripes of graphene, any of the thousands of applications currently considered for nanotubes renowned for their unique properties can also apply to graphene itself," Professor Geim said.
The current patches of graphene that are only about ten microns across and computer engineers will need graphene wafers a few inches in size before they are useful in microelectrics. This is entirely possible as there are no fundamental limitations on the lateral size of carbon nanofabric. Dr Novoselov added: "Only ten years ago carbon nanotubes were less than a micron long. Now, scientists can make nanotubes several centimetres long, and similar progress can reasonably be expected for carbon nanofabric too".
David Glover from University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd commented: "This is clearly an exciting breakthrough with huge potential, and with development graphene could soon compete in many niche markets where low energy consumption and high electron mobility are paramount requirements".
The research was published in the magazine Science on October 22.