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Researchers Discover Dream Nanotechnology in the Form of 2D Semiconductors

Posted May 16, 2019

As technology continues to advance at alarming rates, particularly modern computing, it calls for the use of more capable and highly conductive materials. It would seem, however, that we’re nearing a point where the materials we do have serve as a limitation for future growth.

Smartphones today are remarkably powerful, equal to — if not more capable — than even desktop computers. There was a time, however, where even a single, less powerful computer was the size of a room. Naturally, engineers and designers have been able to shrink these devices down to the point where they now fit in our pocket.

Printed circuit board. Image credit: Shawn Stutzman via Pexels

Printed circuit board. Image credit: Shawn Stutzman via Pexels (Pexels licence)

The current iteration of devices and computers have truly reached a limit. With the materials we have available, they’ve gotten as small and slim as they can. Something needs to happen to break the barrier of capacity, at least if researchers and engineers want to push modern electronics to new heights.

Quantum computing is a fairly new concept that will make future computers and electronics capable of wondrous things, but to get there, researchers are learning to work with various materials and how they affect these mechanics. Gold, for example, is highly conductive and holds great promise, but to truly leverage its full potential, researchers are working on new forms of semiconductors.

Now, engineers and researchers have been able to generate two-dimensional (2D) semiconductors with the help of atom-by-atom customization.

What Is a 2D Semiconductor?

A two-dimensional space is flat, but when talking about 2D semiconductors, that description is not entirely accurate. Both sides of a semiconductor or chip can be utilized to maximize its capability.

Up until now, there hasn’t been a real possibility for 2D semiconductors that use a single layer. No matter how thin, most have still been three-dimensional in nature and size.

Researchers can now convert gold into semiconducting quantum dots that form a single layer of atoms. In other words, they are truly 2D or flat. This structure is formed through a process called quantum confinement, which is a unique effect that allows materials to behave similarly to atoms because they are so small. They are reduced to such a size that they act molecularly like atoms.

The gold has a bandgap tunable atom-by-atom, similar to how ones and zeros work with conventional computing.

The researchers found this particular state can be achieved by laying the gold out on boron nitride nanotubes, which works to clump the gold dots or atoms.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the semiconductors used today, especially when it comes to capability. This new method introduced by Michigan Tech researchers would allow for more efficient development processes that are less complex in nature. PTFE tubing is used today to help speed up the manufacturing process for semiconductors and chips. It has certainly helped hasten the entire development process considerably.

This new method, especially if adapted to work with even more materials, would streamline efficiency in several ways — manufacturing included. However, we’re still incredibly far away from the method being implemented in mainstream development.

What Does Dream Nanotechnology Mean for Future Electronics and Computing?

Study lead Yoke Khin Yap, a professor of physics at Michigan Tech, believes that this dream nanotechnology will serve as inspiration for more solutions. The idea is that thanks to the team’s demonstration of gold’s effectiveness, more researchers will take the time to explore other metal monolayers on a molecular scale. Perhaps there are other materials out there that would be more suitable and capable than gold.

The Michigan Tech team plans to further characterize the process, as well as to incorporate device fabrication, by creating a working prototype to demonstrate an all-metal device.

The implication of this is a near-flat device capable of as much, if not more than, the current iteration of technology and computers. Imagine a smartphone that is paper thin.

Of course, it will take some time to reach that level of development — which also means it will take quite a bit of research to see the final product. However, it will be worth the wait.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes

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