A nanotechnology breakthrough from engineers at Trinity College Dublin could lead to touchscreen computers appearing on almost any flat surface, including anything from milk cartons and tabletops, according to a new report in the journal Science.
The researchers have put together graphene nanosheets, a nanoscale carbon, using conventional printing methods with two other nano materials – tungsten diselenide and boron nitride – and created a working transistor.
“We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing,” study author Jonathan Coleman, an investigator at Trinity’s School of Physics, said in a news release. “We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from two-dimensional nanosheets.”
The potential uses for this new technology is endless. It can be applied to food packaging that could show warnings about its state, such as if it’s too warm or if it’s about to spoil. Wine labels could conveniently notify your mobile when the bottle’s reached the ideal temperature. Your window pane could display the weather forecast or be programmed for holiday light displays. And another cool possibility is the enhancement of next-generation paper currency that could be embedded with security features. These are only a few examples but the possibilities are – repeat – endless.
“In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging,” Coleman said. “Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information.”
The study team stands strong on the use of their two-dimensional nanomaterials as opposed to other materials used in this field, as theirs have the capacity to yield cheaper and higher performance devices. Their study ‘has shown that conducting, semiconducting and insulating two-dimensional nanomaterials can be used together in intricate devices.’
Printed electronics for the past three decades have evolved, revealing along the way its performance restrictions, for both printable carbon-based materials and alternative materials like carbon nanotubes.
The current state of two-dimensional devices cannot compare with advanced transistors but the team is optimistic that there is much room to ‘enhance performance past the current cutting-edge for printed transistors.’
The process to print two-dimensional nanomaterials described in the study is via a scalable technique of generating two-dimensional sheets of graphene, boron nitride, and tungsten diselenide in liquids. These nanosheets are flat nanoparticles just a few nanometres thick but hundreds of nanometres across. Significantly, these nanosheets made from various materials have electronic properties, particularly the ability to conduct, insulate or act as a semiconductor. Therefore, these novel materials can be the building blocks of electronic devices.
The researchers said their liquid processing technique is particularly beneficial in that it produces large amounts of high quality two-dimensional materials in a form that is simple to process into inks. The study noted the potential to print out circuits at very low cost, which could expedite a variety of applications.
A team of European researchers in another printed electronics development revealed a technology they say is biocompatible, which means that printed electronics can be implanted as medical devices. The device is made from graphene, hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) and semiconductor transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs).
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