University of Utah engineers discover new 2D semiconducting material

At the University of Utah, engineers have discovered a new 2D semiconducting material for electronics.

The material, they say, will make for faster computers and smartphones that will not consume hefty amounts of power despite their robust speeds.

The semiconductors are made of tin monoxide, with a layer of 2D material that is only one atom thick. This means the semiconductor allows electrical charges to move through it faster than 3D materials such as silicon.

A team headed by University of Utah materials science and engineering associate professor Ashutosh Tiwari made the discovery and described the research in a February 2016 paper co-authored by University of Utah materials science and engineering doctoral students K. J. Saji and Kun Tian, and Michael Snure of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Research Lab near Dayton, Ohio.

With 3D materials, electrons can bounce around in the layers in various directions. More traditional semiconductor materials like quartz wafers and synthetic quartz wafers/substrates work well for their purposes, but many researchers have been looking to 2D materials to address some of the issues 3D materials present.

With 2D materials electrons are stuck to one layer reducing the movement and increasing speed.

Tin monoxide is the first 2D material for a semiconductor that allows negative electrons and positive charges to move.

Tiwari noted that things will move forward more quickly with manufacturing transistors that could be used to make products that operate 100 times faster than current devices. These devices will require less power to function, meaning battery operated devices could last longer without requiring a new charge.

The semiconductor material has potential in various industries from design and manufacturing of computers and smartphones, to medical devices that require semiconductors to function.

The team expects a prototype of a product using the new 2D semiconducting material could launch in two to three years.

This is just one major discovery in a field that is rapidly expanding with new innovation, research and development. The semiconductor field is taking off as industries realize just how important these devices are to nearly every aspect of a modern, connected life. As time goes on, you can expect to see even greater advances in semiconductors and semiconducting material, leading to fast, powerful devices that require less power to run, becoming generally more robust and reliable compared to today’s devices powered by semiconductors.

The Centre of Process Innovation (CPI) recently announced it was part of a UK-based collaboration with University of Cambridge, FlexEnable Ltd., and the National Physical Laboratory. The goal of the partnership was to develop ultra-barrier materials using graphene, to create flexible, transparent electronic-based plastic displays for smartphones, tablets, and wearable electronics. Manufacturers of these products require barriers with a greater degree of flexibility, which graphene can likely provide.

FlexEnable, the lead business partner, saw many uses for the graphene ultra-barrier materials.

Graphene-based barrier coatings and films could be used for flexible OLED lighting and LED encapsulants as well as display products, on a widespread commercial basis.

Using graphene interlayers, displays can be made very flexibly. The barrier materials will be transparent, robust, and impervious to various molecules that could cause damage. This represents a great increase in potential for the technology in various applications and industries, which use barrier coatings and films but require a greater degree of flexibility and strength.

At the time the collaboration was announced, James Johnstone, Business Development Manager at CPI, said, “The collaboration brings together world class supply chain expertise across the UK to bridge the gap from Graphene research to the manufacturing of commercial flexible display screens. The Hofmann group at the Department of Engineering in Cambridge is a key innovator in the growth and processing of graphene films. NPL are experts in the traceable measurement of water transfer characteristics and FlexEnable brings an industrial focus to the project with their extensive expertise in the manufacture of flexible electronics and flexible display screens in particular. CPI’s role in the project is to use roll-to-roll atomic layer deposition technologies to scale up, test and fabricate the ultra barrier materials.”

Also at the time the collaboration was announced, Chuck Milligan, CEO of FlexEnable added, “Graphene and other 2D materials are extremely relevant for the flexible electronics industry, with the potential for broad usage from conductors to semiconductors, insulators and even barriers. Building on FlexEnable’s previous leading-edge work with graphene, our involvement will enable the accelerated integration of these game-changing materials in a new generation of ultra-flexible end-user applications with innovative form factors.”

The partnership is hoping to bring their barrier coatings and materials onto the market for commercial use as soon as possible.

Researchers have uncovered a new way to control particle motions on 2D materials such as graphene, separating quasiparticles called plasmons into two streams moving in opposite directions without requiring strong magnetic fields.

MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Nicholas X. Fang, recent PhD graduate Anshuman Kumar, and four other researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the University of Minnesota conducted the research.

The separated flows had previously been accomplished by other researchers but the separation required the use of powerful magnetic fields, something that may not be practical in real life applications.

This research group discovered a process that shies away from needing magnetic fields, but instead uses optical effects, generated with beams of circularly polarized light.

When the light is shone on graphene ribbons it causes electrons in that material to separate into two distinct valleys. Another beam of light can be used to detect transmission to measure the effects.

This is very useful and exciting news, especially for those using photonic systems that require optical isolators. Optical isolators keep beams of light from causing interference, which can happen if the beams of light reflect back to the source. Optical isolators are useful and much needed in many cases, but can be bulky.

With the new particle motion discovery, optical isolation can be done without a magnetic field, on a chip scale. This advancement could lead to lots of new technology that is less cumbersome, and more immune to interference.

While optical isolators have their place in current technology and may still be needed in various applications in the future, this represents an exciting shift in current technology.

Within the industry, manufacturers and researchers are looking for ways to create smaller, more powerful chips that can last longer and work harder within devices. The new particle motion control technology is such that, were it similarly powered by a magnetic field, it would have to be contained in a research facility due to the strength of magnet required.

The research done by this group points toward a growing interest in technology that is lighter and more portable, which translates to lighter, more portable devices. We may still use optical isolators in other applications, but for companies that want to avoid using strong magnetic fields, this is certainly an exciting discovery.