Scientists and engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) have discovered an entirely new carbon-based material that is synthesized from the “wonder kid” of the carbon family, graphene. The discovery, which the researchers are calling “graphene monoxide (GMO),” pushes carbon materials closer to ushering in next-generation electronics.
Graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of carbon that resembles a flat sheet of chicken wire at nanoscale, has the potential to revolutionize electronics because it conducts electricity much better than the gold and copper wires used in current devices. Transistors made of silicon are approaching the minimum size at which they can be effective, meaning the speed of devices will soon bottom out. Carbon materials at nanoscale could be the remedy.
Currently, applications for graphene are limited because it’s too expensive to mass produce. Another problem is that, until now, graphene-related materials existed only as conductors or insulators.
“A major drive in the graphene research community is to make the material semiconducting so it can be used in electronic applications,” says Junhong Chen, professor of mechanical engineering and a coauthor of a paper in the journal ACS Nano. “Our major contribution in this study was achieved through a chemical modification of graphene.”
GMO exhibits characteristics that will make it easier to scale up than graphene. And, like silicon in the current generation of electronics, GMO is semiconducting, necessary for controlling the electrical current in such a strong conductor as graphene. Now all three characteristics of electrical conductivity – conducting, insulating and semiconducting – are found in the carbon family, offering needed compatibility for use in future electronics.