Using single molecules as electronic components is the ultimate goal for future electronic nanotechnology devices. In order to explore the electronic properties of a single molecule, researchers have to make electrical contact between electrodes and molecules - and this has proven to be a big challenge. The problem is forming stable and reproducible molecular bridges and determining their electrical properties. It has already been shown that molecular bridges can be formed. However, their mechanical stability and reproducibility is usually low. Whether it is really possible to form a single stable molecular bridge, which can act as a 'normal' electrical component at room temperature has yet to be answered. An important step in this direction will be to identify all the mechanics involved in single atom contacts.
In contrast to the often depicted model of a perfect hexagonal lattice cylinder shape of carbon nanotubes, these nanomaterials often become twisted, bent or otherwise deformed during their growth, processing, or characterization. Researchers have found that some of these defects can be associated with a rearrangement of atoms and bonds which in turn will impact on the band structure and therefore affects the electronic properties of the tube. Previous experimental Atomic Force Microscopy and Transmission Electron Microscopy studies of carbon nanotubes have clearly identified their susceptibility to collapse and theoretical predictions of the impact that these deformations have on the electronic properties have been formulated. Experiments at the University of Surrey in the UK are the first to show atomically resolved radially collapsed double-walled carbon nanotubes, bringing also clear evidence of changes in the fundamental electronic behavior of these systems in response to the deformation.
The success of the semiconductor industry has been due in large part to its ability to continuously increase the complexity, and therefore the processing power, of integrated circuits at a given manufacturing cost. Moore?s Law observes that the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles every two years, whilst the cost of making the chip remains the same, due to miniaturization of the components. In order to produce the next generation of computer chips it is necessary to continue to shrink the size of the components on the chip. The miniaturization upon which Moore?s Law rests has been achieved through advances in the photolithographic process used to pattern the components onto to the silicon wafer. A beam of light is projected through a shadow-casting reticule and the light pattern is then directed onto a silicon wafer coated with a photochemically sensitive material, known as a resist. The solubility of the resist is modified by exposure to the light, allowing specific areas of the resist film to be removed, whilst other areas remain as a mask, so that the silicon wafer can be selectively etched, metallized or doped. For many years it has been predicted that the end of photolithography is approaching, and that further miniaturization will require next generation lithography techniques, such as EUV lithography. However, photolithography has proved remarkably resilient, and continues to improve. Unfortunately, whilst the ability of photolithography to pattern small features continues to improve, the industry is beginning to challenge the capabilities of the photosensitive resist.
We have written about scientists' fascination with graphene - the flat one-atom thick sheet of carbon - before. Over the past couple of years, graphene has become a new model system for condensed-matter physics - the branch of physics that deals with the physical properties of solid materials - because it enables table-top experimental tests of quantum relativistic phenomena, some of which are unobservable in high-energy physics. The behavior of electrons in graphene is very different from their behavior in typical semiconductors. In the latter, they possess a mass, and a finite energy (called the energy gap) is necessary to move the electrons from the valence to the conductance band and they move like regular particles, increasing their speed as they get accelerated. In graphene, electrons move with a constant speed - much faster than electrons in other semiconductors - independent of their kinetic energy (similar to the behavior of photons), and there is no energy gap. Graphene, which basically is an unrolled, planar form of a carbon nanotube therefore has become an extremely interesting candidate material for nanoscale electronics. Researchers in the UK have now, for the first time, shown that it is possible to carve out nanoscale transistors from a single graphene crystal.
The most common type of modern transistor, and the type of transistor used in integrated circuits, is called a field-effect transistor (FET). The FET is so named because it relies on an electric field to control the shape and hence the conductivity of a 'channel' (the charge carrier) in a semiconductor material. This field causes a second electrical current to flow across the semiconductor, identical to the first weak signal, but stronger. Since the invention of the first transistor in 1947, the vast majority of electronic devices have been based on inorganic semiconductors, which in most cases has been silicon. Due to the demand for lightweight, flexible opto-electronic devices such as displays, solar cells and lasers, organic materials have become an important new class of semiconductor as they combine the virtues of plastics, which can be easily shaped, with those of semiconductors which are the basis of all microelectronics. Organic field-effect transistors (OFETs) have been mainly based on two types of semiconductors: conjugated polymers and small conjugated molecules. A recent review, published in Chemical Society Reviews, provides a general introduction about the current standing in the area of OFETs focusing on the new processable small molecules that have been recently reported for their use as organic semiconductors.
The success of the computer and communications industry is mainly due to the possibility of a large volume and low cost production output: silicon wafers containing myriad micro and nano structures are at the basis of Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology. A challenge is the realization of spatially ordered nanostructures in silicon that have many interesting applications like photonic crystals to mod the flow of light, chemical sensors, devices to alter the wetting of liquids on a surface, and as capacitors in high-frequency electronics used in mobile phones. The incorporation of such structures on existing silicon chips is greatly desired, and adapting conventional semiconductor nanofabrication to that end is widely pursued. Just a few days ago we wrote about the general aspects and challenges of silicon photonics and today we are taking a look at a specific fabrication challenge. The challenge for researchers is to to obtain photonic crystals with stop bands in the telecommunication wavelength regions, i.e.1330 nm and 1550 nm. To do that, the diameter of these pores must be smaller than 500 nm. The pore to pore distances, also referred to as pitch or interpore distance, must be well below 1 micrometer. Furthermore the depth to diameter aspect ratio of the pores must be as high as possible to obtain photonic crystals with large enough volumes. Researchers in The Netherlands now have demonstrated a method to etch arrays of nanopores in silicon with record depth-to-diameter ratios. These structures are suitable for nanophotonics and were made completely with CMOS compatible technologies, making integration of photonic structures in silicon chips feasible.
There has been quite a buzz about graphene, a single atomic layer thick, plane of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Discovered only in 2004, graphene exhibits many exotic properties and currently is considered the most exciting new material system among nanotechnology researchers. This rising star in material science exhibits remarkable electronic properties that qualify it for applications in future optoelectronic devices. In a first experimental study of the thermal conductivity of single-layer graphene, researchers found that on top of many unique electronic properties, graphene also is an extraordinary good heat conductor. Measurements revealed that graphene's near room temperature thermal conductivity, which is in the range from 3500-5300 W/mK, is much higher than that of diamond, the best bulk crystal heat conductor. It appears that the thermal conductivity of graphene is larger than conventionally accepted experimental values reported for individual suspended carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and corresponds to the upper bound of the highest values reported for single-wall CNT bundles. The superb thermal conduction property of graphene is beneficial for its proposed electronic applications and establishes graphene as an excellent material for thermal management also in optoelectronics, photonics and bioengineering.
Due to their exceptional electronic and mechanical properties, as well as their nanoscale size, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) could become the active electronic elements in addressing next generation electronic requirements for which silicon is not a solution. Already, it has been shown extensively that semiconducting CNTs can be made into electronic components such as transistors and switches. Their thermal, mechanical, chemical stability, and large current-carrying capacity make CNTs attractive for applications not only in in electrical interconnects but also field-effect transistors, cold cathode field emitters, and sensors. Some of the problems in developing CNT-based electronic devices have to do with building reliable interconnections between CNTs and external electrical and mechanical systems and in developing a reliable fabrication batch process to allow for industrial-scale mass production that supports the direct manipulation and placement/growth of CNTs at specific locations. Pointing to a possible solution, researchers now have demonstrated controllable and simultaneous wafer-scale assembly of CNT networks by dielectrophoresis.