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Scientists Create Three-Atom Wide Wires Using Electron Beams

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Apr 29, 2014 07:05 AM EDT
Series of still scanning electron micrographs (a to d) show how the electron beam is used to create nanowires.
Series of still scanning electron micrographs (a to d) show how the electron beam is used to create nanowires. (Photo : Junhao Lin / Vanderbilt)

Scientists have used a beam of electrons to create a thin, flexible metallic wire that is just three atoms wide. The nanoscale wire could be used to create paper-thin electronic devices.

The research, conducted by Junhao Lin, a Vanderbilt University Ph.D. student and colleagues, has advanced atomic monolayer research. Several scientists are trying to create materials that comprise of a single layer of atoms.

One of the best-known monolayer materials is graphene. The wonder-material is flexible and strong and is considered to be a replacement for silicon. However, despite its qualities, scientists have had trouble using it to create electronic circuits. This is the reason for a surge in popularity of another family of materials called transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs).

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The tiny wires in the current research were made using TMDCs. An important quality of the TMDCs is that they naturally occur as monolayers. These materials are made using molybdenum or tungsten along with sulphur or selenium. Molybdenum disulfide is the most popular member of the family and is commonly used as a solid lubricant.

Other researchers have created transistors and flash memory gates using TMDCs. The present research could help scientists create nanoscale wires that could be used in connecting these devices.

According to the researchers, the technique that they used in the study could be applied in designing circuits.

"Junhao used a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) that is capable of focusing a beam of electrons down to a width of half an angstrom (about half the size of an atom) and aims this beam with exquisite precision," Wu Zhou, who is Lin's mentor, said in a news release.

 "This will likely stimulate a huge research interest in monolayer circuit design," Lin said. "Because this technique uses electron irradiation, it can in principle be applicable to any kind of electron-based instrument, such as electron-beam lithography."

Primary funding for the research came from Department of Energy's Office of Science grant and the study is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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