Fifty thousand of the rectifier molecules strung end to end would fit across the diameter of a human hair
A team of scientists from Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork and the National University of Singapore have designed and fabricated ultra-small devices for energy-efficient electronics. By finding out how molecules behave in these devices, a ten-fold increase in switching efficiency was obtained by changing just one carbon atom. These devices could provide new ways to combat overheating in mobile phones and laptops, and could also aid in electrical stimulation of tissue repair for wound healing. The breakthrough creation of molecular devices with highly controllable electrical properties will appear in the February issue of Nature Nanotechnology (Advance Online Publication doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.238). Dr. Damien Thompson at the Tyndall National Institute, UCC and a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore led by Prof. Chris Nijhuis designed and created the devices, which are based on molecules acting as electrical valves, or diode rectifiers.
Dr. Thompson explains “These molecules are very useful because they allow current to flow through them when switched ON and block current flow when switched OFF. The results of the study show that simply adding one extra carbon is sufficient to improve the device performance by more than a factor of ten. We are following up lots of new ideas based on these results, and we hope ultimately to create a range of new components for electronic devices.” Dr. Thompson’s atom-level computer simulations showed how molecules with an odd number of carbon atoms stand straighter than molecules with an even number of carbon atoms. This allows them to pack together more closely. Tightly-packed assemblies of these molecules were formed on metal electrode surfaces by the Nijhuis group in Singapore and were found to be remarkably free of defects. These high quality devices can suppress leakage currents and so operate efficiently and reliably. The device can be cleanly switched on and off purely on the basis of the charge and shape of the molecules, just like in the biological nanomachines that regulate photosynthesis, cell division and tissue growth.
Tyndall Electronic Theory Group leader Prof. Jim Greer explains: “Modern electronic devices such as telephones and tablets in manufacture today rely on tiny switches approaching molecular sizes. This provides new challenges for electronics but opens up exciting opportunities for blending molecular properties to be used to advantage. Dr. Thompson’s work is an exciting new avenue to exploit molecular design to achieve new ways to perform information processing.” A key enabling feature for nanoscale electronics will be the ability to use molecules as rectifiers and switches. By demonstrating the rational design of molecules that rectify current with a large and highly-reproducible ON/OFF ratio, the study provides a key advance towards the creation of technologically viable ultra-small device components. Fifty thousand of the rectifier molecules strung end to end would fit across the diameter of a human hair. Advances in computing, synthesis and characterisation means scientists can now understand and control material at the scale of atoms and molecules.
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