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Say hello to smaller electronic devices soon as researchers create extremely thin electrically conducting sheets

Researchers make it possible to create much smaller electronic devices with this new breakthrough in nanotechnology. Photo Credit: Queen's University Belfast

By Excel Dyquiangco

Physicists Dr. Raymond McQuaid, Dr Amit Kumar, and Professor Marty Gregg from Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics have recently created extremely thin electrically conducting sheets that could transform tiny electronic devices which can control everything—from medical technology to banking and to smartphones.

These rare 2D sheets, called as domain walls that exist in crystalline materials, are nearly as thin as graphene.

But unlike graphene, they can disappear, appear, or move around inside the crystals without altering the crystals themselves.

This means that even smaller electronic devices can possibly be created, as electronic circuits can reconfigure themselves to do a couple of activities, not just focusing on one.

Professor Marty Gregg said in a statement: “Almost all aspects of modern life such as communication, healthcare, finance and entertainment rely on microelectronic devices. The demand for more powerful, smaller technology keeps growing, meaning that the tiniest devices are now composed of just a few atoms – a tiny fraction of the width of human hair.

“As things currently stand, it will become impossible to make these devices any smaller – we will simply run out of space. This is a huge problem for the computing industry and new, radical, disruptive technologies are needed. One solution is to make electronic circuits more ‘flexible’ so that they can exist at one moment for one purpose, but can be completely reconfigured the next moment for another purpose.”

The findings of the team were published in Nature Communications journal, giving way to a new development in data processing.

“Our research suggests the possibility to “etch-a-sketch” nanoscale electrical connections, where patterns of electrically conducting wires can be drawn and then wiped away again as often as required.

“In this way, complete electronic circuits could be created and then dynamically reconfigured when needed to carry out a different role, overturning the paradigm that electronic circuits need be fixed components of hardware, typically designed with a dedicated purpose in mind,” said Professor Gregg.

Creating these sheets can be a challenge, as they need to conduct electricity effectively and copy the behavior of real metallic wires.

It is likewise important to choose exactly when and where domain walls would appear and to delete or reposition them.

To work around the problem, the researchers have discovered that squeezing the crystal at the exact required location using a sharp needle can create long conducting sheets.

The sheets eventually can be positioned around the crystal through applied electronic fields.

Dr. Raymond McQuaid, newly appointed lecturer at the School of Mathematics and Physics in Queen’s University, also said: “Our team has demonstrated for the first time that copper-chlorine boracite crystals can have straight conducting walls that are hundreds of microns in length and yet only nanometres thick. The key is that, when a needle is pressed into the crystal surface, a jigsaw puzzle-like pattern of structural variants, called “domains”, develops around the contact point. The different pieces of the pattern fit together in a unique way with the result that the conducting walls are found along certain boundaries where they meet.

“We have also shown that these walls can then be moved using applied electric fields, therefore suggesting compatibility with more conventional voltage operated devices. Taken together, these two results are a promising sign for the potential use of conducting walls in reconfigurable nano-electronics.”

About Wired Correspondence (186 Articles)
WIRED CORRESPONDENCE is an online newsmagazine managed by freelance journalists and editors. This is our attempt to break into online journalism, initially covering general news around the world. Our main focus in the near future, however, is to report under-covered or under-reported social issues in the Philippines and elsewhere through narrative, long-form journalism. We aim to help through storytelling.

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