Using graphene and other 2D materials, physicists were able to create the smallest microchips so far by using "nano-origami techniques."

Researchers from the University of Sussex were able to perform this nano-origami, with details of the project's latest ACS Nano journal. They achieved this by creating "kinks" within the graphene structure, making the nanomaterial sheet exhibit behavior similar to semiconductor transistors. Furthermore, researchers demonstrated that when graphene strips are crumpled in a specific manner, they start behaving like microchips - only about a hundred times smaller than their conventional counterparts.

Programmable Integrated Circuit (PIC) Microchip
(Photo: Acdx via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo of a Microchip PIC24HJ32GP202 16-bit 28-pin microcontroller and a metric ruler. With the latest advancement in straintronics, manufacturers can create even smaller microchips.

Doing Nano-Origami on Graphene

"We're mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene. It's a bit like nano-origami," says Professor Alan Dalton from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. He explains that using this fabricated nanomaterial could make computer chips even smaller, especially when electronics manufacturers are nearing the physical limitations of traditional semiconductor technology and manufacturing processes.

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"Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future," Dalton added.

He explains that the technology, called 'straintronics,' relies on the nanomaterial instead of conventional electronic integrated circuits (IC). With this new tech, manufacturers can explore circuits and microchips with increased component density inside devices. Instead of complex components, logic could potentially be transferred by "crinkling" graphene.

Dr. Manoj Tripathi, lead author of the study and a research fellow in Nanostructured Materials also at the University of Sussex, explains the advantage of these crumpled graphenes and 2D materials. With their study, they exhibited behaviors through the controlled addition of the crumples, as a nano-origami, instead of adding foreign materials.

Researchers claim that the new technology is a greener and more sustainable alternative since no additional materials have to be added. Also, because the fabrication process works at room temperature, it will require less energy than high-temperature environments commonly present in electronics manufacturing processes.

Exploiting Mechanical Deformation on 2D Materials

"Two-dimensional materials such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide are often subject to out-of-plane deformation, but its influence on electronic and nanomechanical properties remains poorly understood," researchers stated in their published report.

Through the use of atomic force microscopy - a very high-resolution scope that can image objects as small as a fraction of a nanometer - and Raman spectroscopic mapping, they could quantify the physical distortions as they occur on these 2D materials. They discovered that different forms of line defects - such as standing collapsed wrinkles, folded wrinkles, and even grain boundaries - correspond to distinct strain and doping behavior on the material.

Researchers also discovered that for strips with wrinkles of the same height, graphene showed generally higher stiffness coefficients than the molybdenum disulfide, with the carbon-based material being 10 to 15 percent stronger, with the behavior attributed to graphene's stronger covalent bonding.

They also noted in their paper that their work offers "critical fundamental insights" into the effect of structural defects on a nanomaterial, which could help guide advances in straintronic device engineering.

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