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Rensselaer Draws ‘Roadmap’ for Designing with Graphene Nanomaterials

by Editor1 last modified March 28, 2012 - 12:02

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have produced a roadmap that can guide scientists on how to design and build graphene-based nanostructures that can be customized for applications in electronics, photovoltaics and other areas.

Rensselaer Draws ‘Roadmap’ for Designing with Graphene Nanomaterials

Image of a nanowiggle captured by Rensselaer researchers.

The research team used Rensselaer’s Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) supercomputer to explore the secrets of graphitic nanoribbons. They discovered these can be come in variously typed structures, called nanowiggles, which produce different magnetic and conductive properties, depending on their shape.

The team is led by Vincent Meunier, the Gail and Jeffrey L. Kodosky '70 Constellation Professor of Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer.

"Graphene nanomaterials have plenty of nice properties, but to date it has been very difficult to build defect-free graphene nanostructures, Meunier said. “So these hard-to-reproduce nanostructures created a near insurmountable barrier between innovation and the market," Meunier said.

He and his team used Rensselaer’s CCNI along with computational analysis to study four distinct nanowiggle structures. The work provides an important base of knowledge for scientists that could be used as a blueprint into how to design, tune and build with graphene nanostructures, and customize them for various tasks.

Meunier and his team analyzed the novel nanomaterials using CCNI and found the graphene nanowiggles could be easily manufactured and modified to display exceptional electrical conductive properties. "What we found in our analysis of the nanowiggles' properties was even more surprising than previously thought," Meunier said. The team found:

Different nanowiggles produced highly varied band gaps. A band gap determines the levels of electrical conductivity of a solid material.

Different nanowiggles exhibited up to five highly varied magnetic properties.

The work will let scientists tune the bandgap and magnetic properties of a nanostructure based on their application, Meunier noted.

The CCNI enabled the researchers to complete sophisticated calculations in a few months. "Without CCNI, these calculations would still be continuing a year later and we would not yet have made this exciting discovery. Clearly this research is an excellent example illustrating the key role of CCNI in predictive fundamental science," he said.

The novel structures were dubbed “nanowiggles” because all four types of nanoribbon-edge structures found thus far has a wiggly appearance, like a caterpillar inching across a leaf, as Meunier described them.

Graphene nanowiggles are special nanoribbons formed using a “bottom-up” approach, where they are chemically assembled atom-by-atom. This approach varies from that used to create standard graphene materials, which takes an existing material and attempts to cut it into a new structure and results in zigzag structures. In contrast, graphene nanowiggles can easily and quickly be produced very long and clean.

Nanowiggles were recently discovered by a group led by scientists at EMPA, Switzerland. Graphene — the thinnest material known to man, could usher in a new era of nanoelectronics, optics, and spintronics.

The Rensselaer findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters in a paper titled "Emergence of Atypical Properties in Assembled Graphene Nanoribbons."