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By A.J. Roan
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Nano-origami used for smallest microchip

Researchers fold graphene and creates electronic components Metal Tech News – February 17, 2021


Last updated 2/16/2021 at 4:59pm

University of Sussex graphene nanomaterials 2D origami smallest microchip

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A single layer of carbon atoms organized in a hexagonal structure, graphene is a 2D material with incredible strength, superior electrical conductivity, and antimicrobial properties.

Physicists at the University of Sussex have combined the properties of the modern 2D material, graphene, with the ancient art of paperfolding, origami, to create the tiniest microchips to date.

The researchers have utilized the nanomaterial to behave like a transistor by creating kinks and folds in the structure of graphene. When done, a strip of graphene crinkled in a particular fashion, behaves like a microchip, and is around 100 times smaller than conventional microchips.

This is the first time researchers have done this, and it is covered fully in a paper published in the ACS Nano journal.

"We're mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene. It's a bit like nano-origami," said Professor Alan Dalton of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. "Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster. It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology."

Graphene is a byproduct of graphite that was discovered in 2004 and led to the Nobel prize in physics for its discovery.

Being a single atomic layer of graphite, it has entered into the newer category of 2D materials for this trait, among many other wondrous characteristics.

With incredible strength, superior heat and electrical conductivity, and antimicrobial properties, the extent of the uses of graphene have only begun to scratch the surface and with the limit of technology as it is, this material is a limit-breaker.

"This kind of technology – straintronics, using nanomaterials as opposed to electronics – allows space for more chips inside any device," said Dalton. "Everything we want to do with computers – to speed them up – can be done by crinkling graphene like this."

The professor said this discovery could ultimately make computers and smartphones "thousands of times faster in the future."

Following the same whimsy that led to graphene's discovery, playing with graphite with scotch tape, it seems this miracle material is full of fun as the discovery of folding it like a paper crane has led to unlimited possibilities.

"Instead of having to add foreign materials into a device, we've shown we can create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate kinks into the structure," said Dr. Manoj Tripathi, lead author of the paper and Research Fellow in Nano-structured Materials at the University of Sussex. "By making this sort of corrugation we can create a smart electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate."

straintronics Alan Dalton Dr. Manoj Tripathi transistor logic gate

University of Sussex

The base of a 2D material with white lines showing structural kinks that mechanically modify the electrical properties.

As the world is moving more and more toward greener, cleaner, smaller electronics, the demand for valuable critical minerals to enable the functionality of these devices will continue to grow. Yet by opening the floodgates for this branch of technology called straintronics, we may once again move to a mechanical style of electronics found in early computers.

Because no additional materials need to be added when creating a graphene microchip, along with the fact that the folding process works at room temperature, the development of these nano-origami microchips require less energy, is greener, and allows for more sustainability.

With graphite being plentiful, the only limiting factor to a new era of computing devices that are orders of magnitude more powerful than the ones we use today may be larger scale production of graphene.


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