25 October 2004
Nano-Fabric Reveals Unique Properties
by Kate Melville
Researchers from the UK and Russia have unveiled - in the journal Science - the world's first single-atom-thick fabric. The research team, led by 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. The resulting atomic sheet is stable, highly flexible and strong and remarkably conductive. The nanofabric belongs to the family of fullerene molecules and is the first two-dimensional fullerene.
The researchers have been exploring the electronic properties of the nanofabric and have demonstrated an ambipolar field-effect transistor, which works under ambient conditions. They found that the nanofabric exhibits a remarkable quality whereby electrons can travel without any scattering over submicron distances, an important property for making very-fast-switching transistors.
Ultimately, scientists envisage transistors made from a single molecule, and this work brings that vision ever nearer.
In terms of applications, the sort of properties 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," said Geim.
"Computer engineers will need graphene wafers a few inches in size, before considering graphene as "the next big thing". However, all the omens are good, as there are no fundamental limitations on the lateral size of carbon nanofabric," said Geim. "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," added co-researcher Novoselov.