MIT researchers 3-D print colloidal crystals – For the Scale-Up of optical sensors, color displays, and light-guided electronics + YouTube Video

3D MIT-Free-Form-Printing_0

3-D-printed colloidal crystals viewed under a light microscope. Image: Felice Franke

Technique could be used to scale-up self-assembled materials for use as optical sensors, color displays, and light-guided electronics.

MIT engineers have united the principles of self-assembly and 3-D printing using a new technique, which they highlight today in the journal Advanced Materials.

By their direct-write colloidal assembly process, the researchers can build centimeter-high crystals, each made from billions of individual colloids, defined as particles that are between 1 nanometer and 1 micrometer across.

“If you blew up each particle to the size of a soccer ball, it would be like stacking a whole lot of soccer balls to make something as tall as a skyscraper,” says study co-author Alvin Tan, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “That’s what we’re doing at the nanoscale.”

The researchers found a way to print colloids such as polymer nanoparticles in highly ordered arrangements, similar to the atomic structures in crystals. They printed various structures, such as tiny towers and helices, that interact with light in specific ways depending on the size of the individual particles within each structure.

Nanoparticles dispensed from a needle onto a rotating stage, creating a helical crystal containing billions of nanoparticles. (Credit: Alvin Tan)

The team sees the 3-D printing technique as a new way to build self-asssembled materials that leverage the novel properties of nanocrystals, at larger scales, such as optical sensors, color displays, and light-guided electronics.

“If you could 3-D print a circuit that manipulates photons instead of electrons, that could pave the way for future applications in light-based computing, that manipulate light instead of electricity so that devices can be faster and more energy efficient,” Tan says.

Tan’s co-authors are graduate student Justin Beroz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering Mathias Kolle, and associate professor of mechanical engineering A. John Hart.

Out of the fog

Colloids are any large molecules or small particles, typically measuring between 1 nanometer and 1 micrometer in diameter, that are suspended in a liquid or gas. Common examples of colloids are fog, which is made up of soot and other ultrafine particles dispersed in air, and whipped cream, which is a suspension of air bubbles in heavy cream. The particles in these everyday colloids are completely random in their size and the ways in which they are dispersed through the solution.

If uniformly sized colloidal particles are driven together via evaporation of their liquid solvent, causing them to assemble into ordered crystals, it is possible to create structures that, as a whole, exhibit unique optical, chemical, and mechanical properties. These crystals can exhibit properties similar to interesting structures in nature, such as the iridescent cells in butterfly wings, and the microscopic, skeletal fibers in sea sponges.

So far, scientists have developed techniques to evaporate and assemble colloidal particles into thin films to form displays that filter light and create colors based on the size and arrangement of the individual particles. But until now, such colloidal assemblies have been limited to thin films and other planar structures.

“For the first time, we’ve shown that it’s possible to build macroscale self-assembled colloidal materials, and we expect this technique can build any 3-D shape, and be applied to an incredible variety of materials,” says Hart, the senior author of the paper.

Building a particle bridge

The researchers created tiny three-dimensional towers of colloidal particles using a custom-built 3-D-printing apparatus consisting of a glass syringe and needle, mounted above two heated aluminum plates. The needle passes through a hole in the top plate and dispenses a colloid solution onto a substrate attached to the bottom plate.

The team evenly heats both aluminum plates so that as the needle dispenses the colloid solution, the liquid slowly evaporates, leaving only the particles. The bottom plate can be rotated and moved up and down to manipulate the shape of the overall structure, similar to how you might move a bowl under a soft ice cream dispenser to create twists or swirls.

Beroz says that as the colloid solution is pushed through the needle, the liquid acts as a bridge, or mold, for the particles in the solution. The particles “rain down” through the liquid, forming a structure in the shape of the liquid stream. After the liquid evaporates, surface tension between the particles holds them in place, in an ordered configuration.

As a first demonstration of their colloid printing technique, the team worked with solutions of polystyrene particles in water, and created centimeter-high towers and helices. Each of these structures contains 3 billion particles. In subsequent trials, they tested solutions containing different sizes of polystyrene particles and were able to print towers that reflected specific colors, depending on the individual particles’ size.

“By changing the size of these particles, you drastically change the color of the structure,” Beroz says. “It’s due to the way the particles are assembled, in this periodic, ordered way, and the interference of light as it interacts with particles at this scale. We’re essentially 3-D-printing crystals.”

The team also experimented with more exotic colloidal particles, namely silica and gold nanoparticles, which can exhibit unique optical and electronic properties. They printed millimeter-tall towers made from 200-nanometer diameter silica nanoparticles, and 80-nanometer gold nanoparticles, each of which reflected light in different ways.

“There are a lot of things you can do with different kinds of particles ranging from conductive metal particles to semiconducting quantum dots, which we are looking into,” Tan says. “Combining them into different crystal structures and forming them into different geometries for novel device architectures, I think that would be very effective in fields including sensing, energy storage, and photonics.”

This work was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation, the Singapore Defense Science Organization Postgraduate Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program.



Nano-Scale Crystals enable a new design of digital devices – Greater computational power packed into a smaller space

tiny new particles electriccircCredit: CC0 Public Domain

Curtin researchers have developed a tiny electrical circuit that may enable an entirely new design of digital devices.

The  is made from crystals of copper that are grown and electrically wired at nanoscale and may lead to digital devices that have increasing amounts of computational power packed into a smaller space.

In a paper published today in the leading nanotechnology journal ACS Nano, researchers used a single nanoparticle to create an ensemble of different diodes – a basic electronic component of most modern , which functions by directing the flow of electric currents.

Lead researcher Ph.D. candidate Yan Vogel, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences and the Curtin Institute for Functional Molecules and Interfaces, said the research team used a single copper nanoparticle to compress in a single physical entity that would normally require many individual  elements.

Mr Vogel said the research showed that each nanoparticle had an in-built range of electrical signatures and had led to something akin to ‘one particle, many diodes’, thereby opening up the concept of single-particle circuitry.

Mr Vogel said the breakthrough would enable new concepts and methods in the design of miniaturised circuitry.

“Instead of wiring-up a large number of different sorts of diodes, as is done now, we have shown that the same outcome is obtained by many wires landing accurately over a single physical entity, which in our case is a copper nanocrystal,” Mr Vogel said.

Team leader Dr. Simone Ciampi, also from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences and the Curtin Institute for Functional Molecules and Interfaces, said the new research followed that published by himself and his Curtin colleague Dr. Nadim Darwish in 2017, when they created a diode out of a single-molecule, with a size of approximately 1 nanometer, and would help to continue the downsizing trend of electronic devices.

“Last year, we made a breakthrough in terms of the size of the diode and now we are building on that work by developing more tuneable diodes, which can potentially be used to make more powerful and faster-thinking electronic devices,” Dr. Ciampi said.

“Current technology is reaching its limit and molecular or nanoparticle diodes and transistors are the only way that we can continue the improvement of computer performances. We are trying to contribute to the development of the inevitable next generation of electronics.”

This research was co-authored by Dr. Darwish and Ms. Jinyang Zhang, also from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences and the Curtin Institute for Functional Molecules and Interfaces.

 Explore further: Researchers build a single-molecule diode

More information: Yan B. Vogel et al. Switching of Current Rectification Ratios within a Single Nanocrystal by Facet-Resolved Electrical Wiring, ACS Nano (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.8b02934


Rice U: Long Nanotube fibers for use in Large-Scale Aerospace, Consumer Electronics and Textile Applications


Rice University researchers advance characterization, purification of Nanotube wires and films


To make continuous, strong and conductive carbon nanotube fibers, it’s best to start with long nanotubes, according to scientists at Rice University.

The Rice lab of chemist and chemical engineer Matteo Pasquali, which demonstrated its pioneering method to spin carbon nanotube into fibers in 2013, has advanced the art of making nanotube-based materials with two new papers in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

The first paper characterized 19 batches of nanotubes produced by as many manufacturers to determine which nanotube characteristics yield the most conductive and strongest fibers for use in large-scale aerospace, consumer electronics and textile applications.

The researchers determined the nanotubes’ aspect ratio — length versus width — is a critical factor, as is the overall purity of the batch. They found the tubes’ diameters, number of walls and crystalline quality are not as important to the product properties.

Pasquali said that while the aspect ratio of nanotubes was known to have an influence on fiber properties, this is the first systematic work to establish the relationship across a broad range of nanotube samples. Researchers found that longer nanotubes could be processed as well as shorter ones, and that mechanical strength and electrical conductivity increased in lockstep.Rice II nanotubes

The best fibers had an average tensile strength of 2.4 gigapascals (GPa) and electrical conductivity of 8.5 megasiemens per meter, about 15 percent of the conductivity of copper. Increasing nanotube length during synthesis will provide a path toward further property improvements, Pasquali said.

The second paper focused on purifying fibers produced by the floating catalyst method for use in films and aerogels. This process is fast, efficient and cost-effective on a medium scale and can yield the direct spinning of high-quality nanotube fibers; however, it leaves behind impurities, including metallic catalyst particles and bits of leftover carbon, allows less control of fiber structure and limits opportunities to scale up, Pasquali said.

“That’s where these two papers converge,” he said. “There are basically two ways to make nanotube fibers. In one, you make the nanotubes and then you spin them into fibers, which is what we’ve developed at Rice. In the other, developed at the University of Cambridge, you make nanotubes in a reactor and tune the reactor such that, at the end, you can pull the nanotubes out directly as fibers.

“It’s clear those direct-spun fibers include longer nanotubes, so there’s an interest in getting the tubes included in those fibers as a source of material for our spinning method,” Pasquali said. “This work is a first step toward that goal.”

Q Flow MODEL-OF-CARBON-NANOTUBE-PAIDThe reactor process developed a decade ago by materials scientist Alan Windle at the University of Cambridge produces the requisite long nanotubes and fibers in one step, but the fibers must be purified, Pasquali said. Researchers at Rice and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a simple oxidative method to clean the fibers and make them usable for a broader range of applications.

The labs purified fiber samples in an oven, first burning out carbon impurities in air at 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) and then immersing them in hydrochloric acid to dissolve iron catalyst impurities.

Impurities in the resulting fibers were reduced to 5 percent of the material, which made them soluble in acids. The researchers then used the nanotube solution to make conductive, transparent thin films.

“There is great potential for these disparate techniques to be combined to produce superior fibers and the technology scaled up for industrial use,” said co-author Hai Minh Duong, an NUS assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “The floating catalyst method can produce various types of nanotubes with good morphology control fairly quickly. The nanotube filaments can be collected directly from their aerogel formed in the reactor. These nanotube filaments can then be purified and twisted into fibers using the wetting technique developed by the Pasquali group.”

Pasquali noted the collaboration between Rice and Singapore represents convergence of another kind. “This may well be the first time someone from the Cambridge fiber spinning line (Duong was a postdoctoral researcher in Windle’s lab) and the Rice fiber spinning line have converged,” he said. “We’re working together to try out materials made in the Cambridge process and adapting them to the Rice process.”


Alumnus Dmitri Tsentalovich, currently an academic visitor at Rice, is lead author of the characterization paper. Co-authors are graduate students Robert Headrick and Colin Young, research scientist Francesca Mirri and alumni Junli Hao and Natnael Behabtu, all of Rice.

Thang Tran of Rice and NUS and Headrick are co-lead authors of the catalyst paper. Co-authors are graduate student Amram Bengio and research specialist Vida Jamali, both of Rice, and research scientist Sandar Myo and graduate student Hamed Khoshnevis, both of NUS.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Welch Foundation and NASA supported both projects. The characterization project received additional support from the Department of Energy. The catalyst project received additional support from the Temasek Laboratory in Singapore.

Influence of Carbon Nanotube Characteristics on Macroscopic Fiber Properties:

Purification and Dissolution of Carbon Nanotube Fibers Spun from Floating Catalyst Method:

This news release can be found online at

1-blind CNTWhat Are Carbon Nanotubes and What are some of their Applications

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are allotropes of carbon with a cylindrical nanostructure.




These cylindrical carbonmolecules have unusual properties, which are valuable for nanotechnologyelectronicsoptics and other fields of materials science and technology. Owing to the material’s exceptional strength and stiffness, nanotubes have been constructed with length-to-diameter ratio of up to 132,000,000:1,[1] significantly larger than for any other material.

In addition, owing to their extraordinary thermal conductivity, mechanical, and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes find applications as additives to various structural materials. For instance, nanotubes form a tiny portion of the material(s) in some (primarily carbon fiber) baseball bats, golf clubs, car parts or damascus steel.


Breakthrough in ‘wonder’ materials paves way for flexible tech


Credit: University of Warwick


Gadgets are set to become flexible, highly efficient and much smaller, following a breakthrough in measuring two-dimensional ‘wonder’ materials by the University of Warwick.

Dr Neil Wilson in the Department of Physics has developed a new technique to measure the electronic structures of stacks of two-dimensional materials – flat, atomically thin, highly conductive, and extremely strong materials – for the first time.

Multiple stacked layers of 2-D materials – known as heterostructures – create highly efficient optoelectronic devices with ultrafast electrical charge, which can be used in nano-circuits, and are stronger than materials used in traditional circuits.

Various heterostructures have been created using different 2-D materials – and stacking different combinations of 2-D materials creates new with new properties.

Dr Wilson’s technique measures the electronic properties of each layer in a stack, allowing researchers to establish the optimal structure for the fastest, most efficient transfer of electrical energy.

The technique uses the photoelectric effect to directly measure the momentum of electrons within each layer and shows how this changes when the layers are combined.

The ability to understand and quantify how 2-D material heterostructures work – and to create optimal semiconductor structures – paves the way for the development of highly efficient nano-circuitry, and smaller, flexible, more wearable gadgets.

Solar power could also be revolutionised with heterostructures, as the atomically thin layers allow for strong absorption and efficient power conversion with a minimal amount of photovoltaic material.

Dr Wilson comments on the work: “It is extremely exciting to be able to see, for the first time, how interactions between atomically thin layers change their electronic structure. This work also demonstrates the importance of an international approach to research; we would not have been able to achieve this outcome without our colleagues in the USA and Italy.”

Dr Wilson worked formulated the technique in collaboration with colleagues in the theory groups at the University of Warwick and University of Cambridge, at the University of Washington in Seattle, and the Elettra Light Source, near Trieste in Italy.

Understanding how interactions between the atomic layers change their required the help of computational models developed by Dr Nick Hine, also from Warwick’s Department of Physics.

Explore further: Model accurately predicts the electronic properties of a combination of 2-D semiconductors

More information: Neil R. Wilson et al. Determination of band offsets, hybridization, and exciton binding in 2D semiconductor heterostructures, Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601832


Electrons in graphene behave like light, only better ~ Scientists at Columbia University use ‘Electronic Lensing’ to steer an electron ‘beam’ .. solving one of the critical bottlenecks to achieving faster and more energy efficient electronics.”

graphen-beam-electronsingIllustration of refraction through a normal optical medium versus what it would look like for a medium capable of negative refraction. Credit: Cory Dean, Columbia University

A team led by Cory Dean, assistant professor of physics at Columbia University, Avik Ghosh, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Virginia, and James Hone, Wang Fong-Jen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia Engineering, has directly observed—for the first time—negative refraction for electrons passing across a boundary between two regions in a conducting material. First predicted in 2007, this effect has been difficult to confirm experimentally. The researchers were able to observe the effect in graphene, demonstrating that electrons in the atomically thin material behave like light rays, which can be manipulated by such optical devices as lenses and prisms. The findings, which are published in the September 30 edition of Science, could lead to the development of new types of electron switches, based on the principles of optics rather than electronics.

“The ability to manipulate electrons in a conducting material like opens up entirely new ways of thinking about electronics,” says Dean. “For example, the switches that make up computer chips operate by turning the entire device on or off, and this consumes significant power. Using lensing to steer an electron ‘beam’ between electrodes could be dramatically more efficient, solving one of the critical bottlenecks to achieving faster and more energy efficient electronics.”

Dean adds, “These findings could also enable new experimental probes. For example, electron lensing could enable on-chip versions of an electron microscope, with the ability to perform atomic scale imageing and diagnostics. Other components inspired by optics, such as beam splitters and interferometers, could additionally enable new studies of the quantum nature of electrons in the solid state.”

While graphene has been widely explored for supporting high electron speed, it is notoriously hard to turn off the electrons without hurting their mobility. Ghosh says, “The natural follow-up is to see if we can achieve a strong current turn-off in graphene with multiple angled junctions. If that works to our satisfaction, we’ll have on our hands a low-power, ultra-high-speed switching device for both analog (RF) and digital (CMOS) electronics, potentially mitigating many of the challenges we face with the high energy cost and thermal budget of present day electronics.”

Light changes direction – or refracts – when passing from one material to another, a process that allows us to use lenses and prisms to focus and steer light. A quantity known as the index of refraction determines the degree of bending at the boundary, and is positive for conventional materials such as glass. However, through clever engineering, it is also possible to create optical “metamaterials” with a negative index, in which the angle of refraction is also negative. “This can have unusual and dramatic consequences,” Hone notes. “Optical metamaterials are enabling exotic and important new technologies such as super lenses, which can focus beyond the diffraction limit, and optical cloaks, which make objects invisible by bending light around them.”

Electrons travelling through very pure conductors can travel in straight lines like light rays, enabling optics-like phenomena to emerge. In materials, the electron density plays a similar role to the index of refraction, and electrons refract when they pass from a region of one density to another. Moreover, current carriers in materials can either behave like they are negatively charged (electrons) or positively charged (holes), depending on whether they inhabit the conduction or the valence band. In fact, boundaries between hole-type and electron-type conductors, known as p-n junctions (“p” positive, “n” negative), form the building blocks of electrical devices such as diodes and transistors.

Electrons in graphene behave like light, only better
An illustration of a ballistic electron refracting across a PN junction in high purity graphene. Credit: Cory Dean, Columbia University

“Unlike in optical materials”, says Hone, “where creating a negative index metamaterial is a significant engineering challenge, negative electron refraction occurs naturally in solid state materials at any .”

The development of two-dimensional conducting layers in high-purity semiconductors such as GaAs (Gallium arsenide) in the 1980s and 1990s allowed researchers to first demonstrate electron optics including the effects of both refraction and lensing. However, in these materials, electrons travel without scattering only at very low temperatures, limiting technological applications. Furthermore, the presence of an energy gap between the conduction and valence band scatters electrons at interfaces and prevents observation of negative refraction in semiconductor p-n junctions. In this study, the researchers’ use of graphene, a 2D material with unsurpassed performance at room temperature and no energy gap, overcame both of these limitations.

The possibility of negative refraction at graphene p-n junctions was first proposed in 2007 by theorists working at both the University of Lancaster and Columbia University. However, observation of this effect requires extremely clean devices, such that the electrons can travel ballistically, without scattering, over long distances. Over the past decade, a multidisciplinary team at Columbia – including Hone and Dean, along with Kenneth Shepard, Lau Family Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering, Abhay Pasupathy, associate professor of physics, and Philip Kim, professor of physic at the time (now at Harvard) – has worked to develop new techniques to construct extremely clean graphene devices. This effort culminated in the 2013 demonstration of ballistic transport over a length scale in excess of 20 microns. Since then, they have been attempting to develop a Veselago lens, which focuses electrons to a single point using . But they were unable to observe such an effect and found their results puzzling.

In 2015, a group at Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea reported the first evidence focusing in a Veselago-type device. However, the response was weak, appearing in the signal derivative. The Columbia team decided that to fully understand why the effect was so elusive, they needed to isolate and map the flow of electrons across the junction. They utilized a well-developed technique called “magnetic focusing” to inject electrons onto the p-n junction. By measuring transmission between electrodes on opposite sides of the junction as a function of carrier density they could map the trajectory of electrons on both sides of the p-n junction as the incident angle was changed by tuning the magnetic field.

Crucial to the Columbia effort was the theoretical support provided by Ghosh’s group at the University of Virginia, who developed detailed simulation techniques to model the Columbia team’s measured response. This involved calculating the flow of electrons in graphene under the various electric and magnetic fields, accounting for multiple bounces at edges, and quantum mechanical tunneling at the junction. The theoretical analysis also shed light on why it has been so difficult to measure the predicted Veselago lensing in a robust way, and the group is developing new multi-junction device architectures based on this study. Together the experimental data and theoretical simulation gave the researchers a visual map of the refraction, and enabled them to be the first to quantitatively confirm the relationship between the incident and refracted angles (known as Snell’s Law in optics), as well as confirmation of the magnitude of the transmitted intensity as a function of angle (known as the Fresnel coefficients in optics).

“In many ways, this intensity of transmission is a more crucial parameter,” says Ghosh, “since it determines the probability that actually make it past the barrier, rather than just their refracted angles. The transmission ultimately determines many of the performance metrics for devices based on these effects, such as the on-off ratio in a switch, for example.”

Explore further: Researchers bring theorized mechanism of conduction to life

More information: S. Chen et al, Electron optics with p-n junctions in ballistic graphene, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5481

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Brookhaven National Laboratory: Smarter self-assembly opens new pathways for nanotechnology ~ “Potentially Changing the way we design and manufacture electronics.”

Brookhaven Self Assembly NP 080816 id44171To continue advancing, next-generation electronic devices must fully exploit the nanoscale, where materials span just billionths of a meter. But balancing complexity, precision, and manufacturing scalability on such fantastically small scales is inevitably difficult. Fortunately, some nanomaterials can be coaxed into snapping themselves into desired formations—a process called self-assembly.


Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have just developed a way to direct the self-assembly of multiple molecular patterns within a single material, producing new nanoscale architectures. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications (“Selective directed self-assembly of coexisting morphologies using block copolymer blends”).


Electron beam lithography is used to adjust the spacing and thickness of line patterns etched onto a template

Figure 1

Figure 1: Electron beam lithography is used to adjust the spacing and thickness of line patterns etched onto a template (lower layer). These patterns drive a self-assembling block copolymer (top layer) to locally form different types of patterns, depending on the underlying template. Thus, a single material can be coaxed into forming distinct nanopatterns for example, lines or dots ‹ in close proximity. These mixed-configuration materials could lead to new applications in microelectronics.

“This is a significant conceptual leap in self-assembly,” said Brookhaven Lab physicist Aaron Stein, lead author on the study. “In the past, we were limited to a single emergent pattern, but this technique breaks that barrier with relative ease. This is significant for basic research, certainly, but it could also change the way we design and manufacture electronics.”
Microchips, for example, use meticulously patterned templates to produce the nanoscale structures that process and store information. Through self-assembly, however, these structures can spontaneously form without that exhaustive preliminary patterning. And now, self-assembly can generate multiple distinct patterns—greatly increasing the complexity of nanostructures that can be formed in a single step.
“This technique fits quite easily into existing microchip fabrication workflows,” said study coauthor Kevin Yager, also a Brookhaven physicist. “It’s exciting to make a fundamental discovery that could one day find its way into our computers.”
The experimental work was conducted entirely at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, leveraging in-house expertise and instrumentation.


Cooking up organized complexity


The collaboration used block copolymers—chains of two distinct molecules linked together—because of their intrinsic ability to self-assemble.
“As powerful as self-assembly is, we suspected that guiding the process would enhance it to create truly ‘responsive’ self-assembly,” said study coauthor Greg Doerk of Brookhaven. “That’s exactly where we pushed it.”
To guide self-assembly, scientists create precise but simple substrate templates. Using a method called electron beam lithography—Stein’s specialty—they etch patterns thousands of times thinner than a human hair on the template surface. They then add a solution containing a set of block copolymers onto the template, spin the substrate to create a thin coating, and “bake” it all in an oven to kick the molecules into formation. Thermal energy drives interaction between the block copolymers and the template, setting the final configuration—in this instance, parallel lines or dots in a grid.
“In conventional self-assembly, the final nanostructures follow the template’s guiding lines, but are of a single pattern type,” Stein said. “But that all just changed.”


Lines and dots, living together


The collaboration had previously discovered that mixing together different block copolymers allowed multiple, co-existing line and dot nanostructures to form.
“We had discovered an exciting phenomenon, but couldn’t select which morphology would emerge,” Yager said. But then the team found that tweaking the substrate changed the structures that emerged. By simply adjusting the spacing and thickness of the lithographic line patterns—easy to fabricate using modern tools—the self-assembling blocks can be locally converted into ultra-thin lines, or high-density arrays of nano-dots.
“We realized that combining our self-assembling materials with nanofabricated guides gave us that elusive control. And, of course, these new geometries are achieved on an incredibly small scale,” said Yager.


“In essence,” said Stein, “we’ve created ‘smart’ templates for nanomaterial self-assembly. How far we can push the technique remains to be seen, but it opens some very promising pathways.”


Gwen Wright, another CFN coauthor, added, “Many nano-fabrication labs should be able to do this tomorrow with their in-house tools—the trick was discovering it was even possible.”
The scientists plan to increase the sophistication of the process, using more complex materials in order to move toward more device-like architectures.
“The ongoing and open collaboration within the CFN made this possible,” said Charles Black, director of the CFN. “We had experts in self-assembly, electron beam lithography, and even electron microscopy to characterize the materials, all under one roof, all pushing the limits of nanoscience.”
Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory

Read more: Smarter self-assembly opens new pathways for nanotechnology

Next generation anode to improve lithium-ion batteries

New LI Annode 080516 160803140207_1_540x360The silicon-tin nanocomposite developed at UCR viewed by high angle angular dark field imaging. The larger green particles are silicon and the smaller red particles are tin.
Credit: UC Riverside

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have created a new silicon-tin nanocomposite anode that could lead to lithium-ion batteries that can be charged and discharged more times before they reach the end of their useful lives. The longer-lasting batteries could be used in everything from handheld electronic devices to electric vehicles.

Titled “Tin Nanoparticles as an Effective Conductive Addition in Silicon Anodes,” a paper describing the research was published Wednesday (Aug. 3) in the journal Scientific Reports. The project was led by Lorenzo Mangolini, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering in UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering.

Lithium-ion batteries, the most popular rechargeable batteries in personal electronics, are composed of three main parts: an anode, a cathode, and a lithium salt dissolved in an organic solvent. While graphite is the material of choice for most anodes, its performance is a limiting factor in making better batteries and expanding their applications.

Both silicon and tin have been investigated as novel high-performance alternatives for graphite anodes. In the current research, Mangolini’s group showed for the first time that combining both materials into a single composite leads to dramatic improvements in battery performance. In addition to tripling the charge capacity offered by graphite, the silicon-tin nanocomposite is extremely stable over many charge-discharge cycles, essentially extending its useful life. These features, coupled with a simple manufacturing process, could help the expansion of lithium-ion batteries for use in next-generation vehicles.

“Lithium-ion batteries are growing in popularity for electric vehicles and aerospace applications, but there is a clear need to alleviate range anxiety — the fear that a vehicle won’t have enough charge to reach its destination — before we will see large-scale adoption. Any technology that can help is welcome, as long as it is simple and scalable, and our technology meets both those criteria,” Mangolini said.

Mangolini said adding tin to the silicon, rather than another conductive material such as carbon black, would circumvent the low conductivity of silicon without decreasing energy storage.

“The synergistic effects between these two materials lead to batteries that exceed the performance of each of the two components alone, an improvement that is a result of the high electrical conductivity and good energy storage capacity of tin. This can be achieved with the addition of even minor amounts of tin, as small as 2 percent by weight,” he said.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California – Riverside. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. L. Zhong, C. Beaudette, J. Guo, K. Bozhilov, L. Mangolini.Tin nanoparticles as an effective conductive additive in silicon anodes. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 30952 DOI:10.1038/srep30952

U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Scientists grow atomically thin transistors and circuits

auto thin trans 072016 berkeleylabsThis schematic shows the chemical assembly of two-dimensional crystals. Graphene is first etched into channels and the TMDC molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) begins to nucleate around the edges and within the channel. On the edges, MoS2 slightly …more

In an advance that helps pave the way for next-generation electronics and computing technologies—and possibly paper-thin gadgets —scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) developed a way to chemically assemble transistors and circuits that are only a few atoms thick.

What’s more, their method yields functional structures at a scale large enough to begin thinking about real-world applications and commercial scalability.

They report their research online July 11 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The scientists controlled the synthesis of a transistor in which narrow channels were etched onto conducting graphene, and a semiconducting material called a transition-metal dichalcogenide, or TMDC, was seeded in the blank channels. Both of these materials are single-layered crystals and atomically thin, so the two-part assembly yielded electronic structures that are essentially two-dimensional. In addition, the synthesis is able to cover an area a few centimeters long and a few millimeters wide.

“This is a big step toward a scalable and repeatable way to build atomically thin electronics or pack more computing power in a smaller area,” says Xiang Zhang, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division who led the study.

Zhang also holds the Ernest S. Kuh Endowed Chair at the University of California (UC) Berkeley and is a member of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley. Other scientists who contributed to the research include Mervin Zhao, Yu Ye, Yang Xia, Hanyu Zhu, Siqi Wang, and Yuan Wang from UC Berkeley as well as Yimo Han and David Muller from Cornell University.

Their work is part of a new wave of research aimed at keeping pace with Moore’s Law, which holds that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. In order to keep this pace, scientists predict that integrated electronics will soon require transistors that measure less than ten nanometers in length.

Transistors are electronic switches, so they need to be able to turn on and off, which is a characteristic of semiconductors. However, at the nanometer scale, likely won’t be a good option. That’s because silicon is a bulk material, and as electronics made from silicon become smaller and smaller, their performance as switches dramatically decreases, which is a major roadblock for future electronics.

Researchers have looked to two-dimensional crystals that are only one molecule thick as alternative materials to keep up with Moore’s Law. These crystals aren’t subject to the constraints of silicon.

In this vein, the Berkeley Lab scientists developed a way to seed a single-layered semiconductor, in this case the TMDC molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), into channels lithographically etched within a sheet of conducting graphene. The two atomic sheets meet to form nanometer-scale junctions that enable graphene to efficiently inject current into the MoS2. These junctions make atomically thin transistors.

“This approach allows for the chemical assembly of electronic circuits, using two-dimensional materials, which show improved performance compared to using traditional metals to inject current into TMDCs,” says Mervin Zhao, a lead author and Ph.D. student in Zhang’s group at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley.

Optical and electron microscopy images, and spectroscopic mapping, confirmed various aspects related to the successful formation and functionality of the two-dimensional transistors.

In addition, the scientists demonstrated the applicability of the structure by assembling it into the logic circuitry of an inverter. This further underscores the technology’s ability to lay the foundation for a chemically assembled atomic computer, the scientists say.

“Both of these two-dimensional crystals have been synthesized in the wafer scale in a way that is compatible with current semiconductor manufacturing. By integrating our technique with other growth systems, it’s possible that future computing can be done completely with atomically thin crystals,” says Zhao.

Explore further: Excitonic dark states shed light on TMDC atomic layers

More information: Large-scale chemical assembly of atomically thin transistors and circuits, Nature Nanotechnology, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.115

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U of Texas – Austin: Scientists glimpse inner workings of atomically thin transistors

tHIS TRANSISTORS 072016 578d2684a1c34

With an eye to the next generation of tech gadgetry, a team of physicists at The University of Texas at Austin has had the first-ever glimpse into what happens inside an atomically thin semiconductor device. In doing so, they discovered that an essential function for computing may be possible within a space so small that it’s effectively one-dimensional.

In a paper published July 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe seeing the detailed inner workings of a new type of transistor that is two-dimensional.

Transistors act as the building blocks for computer chips, sending the electrons on and off switches required for computer processing. Future tech innovations will require finding a way to fit more on computer chips, so experts have begun exploring new semiconducting materials including one called molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). Unlike today’s silicon-based devices, transistors made from the new material allow for on-off signaling on a single flat plane.

Keji Lai, an assistant professor of physics, and a team found that with this new material, the conductive signaling happens much differently than with silicon, in a way that could promote future energy savings in devices. Think of as light bulbs: The whole device is either turned on or off at once. With 2-D transistors, by contrast, Lai and the team found that electric currents move in a more phased way, beginning first at the edges before appearing in the interior. Lai says this suggests the same current could be sent with less power and in an even tinier space, using a one-dimensional edge instead of the two-dimensional plane.

“In physics, edge states often carry a lot of interesting phenomenon, and here, they are the first to turn on. In the future, if we can engineer this material very carefully, then these edges can carry the full current,” Lai says. “We don’t really need the entire thing, because the interior is useless. Just having the edges running to get a current working would substantially reduce the power loss.”

Researchers have been working to get a view into what happens inside a 2-D transistor for years to better understand both the potential and the limitations of the . Getting 2-D transistors ready for commercial devices, such as paper-thin computers and cellphones, is expected to take several more years. Lai says scientists need more information about what interferes with performance in devices made from the new materials.

“These transistors are perfectly two-dimensional,” Lai says. “That means they don’t have some of the defects that occur in a silicon device. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean the new material is perfect.”

Lai and his team used a microscope that he invented and that points microwaves at the 2-D device. Using a tip only 100 nanometers wide, the microwave microscope allowed the scientists to see conductivity changes inside the transistor. Besides seeing the currents’ motion, the scientists found thread-like defects in the middle of the transistors. Lai says this suggests the new material will need to be made cleaner to function optimally.

“If we could make the material clean enough, the edges will be carrying even more current, and the interior won’t have as many defects,” Lai says.

The paper’s other authors are postdoctoral researchers Di Wu and Xiao Li; research scientist Lan Luan, and graduate students Xiaoyu Wu and Zhaodong Chu, and professor Qian Niu in UT Austin’s Department of Physics; and graduate student Wei Li, former graduate student Maruthi N. Yogeesh, postdoctoral researcher Rudresh Ghosh, and associate professor Deji Akinwande of UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Earlier this year, both Lai and Akinwande won Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the U.S. government’s highest honor for early-stage scientists and engineers.

Explore further: Researchers using germanium instead of silicon for CMOS devices

More information: Uncovering edge states and electrical inhomogeneity in MoS2 field-effect transistors,


Michigan Tech U: Understanding the physics of “Quantum Tunneling” for Ultra-Thin Nano-Wire Transistors

Nanowire 070716 probingquantA field effect transistor (FET) uses a gate bias to control electrical current in a channel between a source and drain, which produces an electrostatic field around the channel. Credit: Michigan Technological University

Nearly 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, nanowires can only be understood with quantum mechanics. Using quantum models, physicists from Michigan Technological University have figured out what drives the efficiency of a silicon-germanium (Si-Ge) core-shell nanowire transistor.

Core-Shell Nanowires

The study, published last week in Nano Letters, focuses on the quantum tunneling in a core-shell nanowire structure. Ranjit Pati, a professor of physics at Michigan Tech, led the work along with his graduate students Kamal Dhungana and Meghnath Jaishi.

Core-shell nanowires are like a much smaller version of electrical cable, where the core region of the cable is made up of different material than the shell region. In this case, the core is made from silicon and the shell is made from germanium. Both silicon and germanium are semiconducting materials. Being so thin, these semiconducting core-shell nanowires are considered one-dimensional materials that display unique physical properties.

The arrangements of atoms in these nanowires determine how the electrons traverse through them, Pati explains, adding that a more comprehensive understanding of the physics that drive these nanoscale transistors could lead to increased efficiency in electronic devices.

“The performance of a heterogeneous silicon-germanium nanowire transistor is much better than a homogeneous silicon nanowire,” Pati says. “In our study, we’ve unraveled the quantum phenomena responsible for its superior performance.”

Field Effect Transistors

Transistors power our digital world. And they used to be large—or at least large enough for people to see. With advances in nanotechnology and materials science, researchers have been able to minimize the size and maximize the numbers of transistors that can be assembled on a microchip.

The particular transistor that Pati has been working on is a field effect transistor (FET) made out of core-shell nanowires. It manipulates the in the nanowire channel using a gate bias. Simply put, a gate bias affects electric current in the channel like a valve controls water flow in a pipe. The gate bias produces an electrostatic field effect that induces a switching behavior in the channel current. Controlling this field can turn the device on or off, much like a light switch.

Probing quantum phenomena in tiny transistors
Quantum tunneling of electrons across germanium atoms in a core-shell nanowire transistor. The close-packed alignment of dumbbell-shaped pz-orbitals direct the physics of tunneling. Credit: Michigan Technological University

Several groups have successfully fabricated core-shell nanowire FETs and demonstrated their effectiveness over the transistors currently used in microprocessors. What Pati and his team looked at is the quantum physics driving their superior performance.

The electrical current between source and drain in a nanowire FET cannot be understood using classical physics. That’s because electrons do strange things at such a tiny scale.

“Imagine a fish being trapped inside a fish tank; if fish has enough energy, it could jump up over the wall,” Pati says. “Now imagine an electron in the tank: if it has enough energy, the electron could jump out—but even if it doesn’t have enough energy, the electron can tunnel through the side walls, so there is a finite probability that we would find an electron outside the tank.”

This is known as quantum tunneling. For Pati, catching the electron in action inside the nanowire transistors is the key to understanding their superior performance. He and his team used what is called a first-principles quantum transport approach to know what causes the electrons to tunnel efficiently in the core-shell nanowires.

The quantum tunneling of electrons—an atomic-scale game of hopscotch—is what enables the electrons to move through the nanowire materials connecting the source and drain. And the movement gets more specific than that: the electrons almost exclusively hop across the germanium shell but not through the silicon core. They do so through the aligned pz-orbitals of the germanium.nanowires-149_thumbnail_100

Simply put, these orbitals, which are dumbbell-shaped regions of high probability for finding an electron, are perfect landing pads for tunneling electrons. The specific alignment—color-coded in the diagram above—makes even easier. It’s like the difference between trying to burrow through a well with steel walls versus sand walls. The close-packed alignment of the pz-orbitals in the germanium shell enable electrons to tunnel from one atom to another, creating a much higher electrical current when switched on. In the case of homogeneous silicon nanowires, there is no close-packed alignment of the pz-orbitals, which explains why they are less effective FETs.

Nanowires in Electronics

There are many potential uses for nanowire FETs. Pati and his team write in their Nano Letters paper that they “expect that the electronic orbital level understanding gained in this study would prove useful for designing a new generation of core−shell nanowire FETs.”

Specifically, having a heterogeneous structure offers additional mobility control and superior performance over the current generation of transistors, in addition to compatibility with the existing silicon technology. The core-shell nanowire FETs could transform our future by making computers more powerful, phones and wearables smarter, cars more interconnected and electrical grids more efficient. The next step is simply taking a small quantum leap.

Explore further: Universal transistor serves as a basis to perform any logic function

More information: Kamal B. Dhungana et al. Unlocking the Origin of Superior Performance of a Si–Ge Core–Shell Nanowire Quantum Dot Field Effect Transistor, Nano Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b00359