Video: Vanderbilt Student Develops Nanowire 3 Atoms Thick

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July 15, 2014

As technology continues to advance, you may wonder just how thin the next line of mobile devices will be. One PhD student says tablets might be as thin as a sheet of paper, and flexible, too, thanks to the creation of nanowires just three atoms thick.

Junhao Lin is a PhD student at Vanderbilt University and visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. With all the recent talk about transitional-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), Lin really wanted to see what these tiny semi-conductors could do. Through some tinkering, he created the thinnest wires in the world, which show serious promise in changing the way we build electronics.

This isn't the first time we've heard about nanowires. Li's wires, however, are one-thousandth the width of microscopic wires, the wires commonly used to sync transistors. Lin created the wires by piling semi-conductive TMDCs on top of one another and blasting the material with a scanning transmission electron microscope to form monolayers. Since TMDCs are semi-conductors, they serve as tiny, microscopic wires, capable of powering any electronic device.

Lin's adviser, Sokrates Pantelides, stated in a press release that the thinnest nanowires in use today are roughly 50 to 100 nanometers across. Lin's wires are significantly thinner, at one nanometer wide, and are also surprisingly strong and flexible. Despite being super slim, the wires are just as sturdy and durable as their thicker counterparts.

To Lin, this means that the next wave of electronics could be paper-thin and ultra flexible. He said in his mind's eye he can see a whole line of mobile devices that are so flexible they can be rolled up like an old newspaper. Who knows, maybe they'll even be used to swat flies.

Lin isn't the only scientist interested in seeing the true capabilities of TMDCs. These semiconductors are known to naturally form monolayers and present some other groovy properties, as well, including high electron mobility and transparency. To date, the microscopic semiconductors have been used to create Flash memory and transistors.

The vision is to eventually see if nanomaterials can be used to create full integrated circuits, and Lin isn't too far off. His nanowires are actually built right into the lattice, which includes gates and transistors, to create one whole, super slim, flexible product. When this is perfected, we won't be far from fold-up smartphones and tablets.

Lin plans to continue his study of TMDC materials. He surely won't be the only one tinkering with the concept.

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