A team of researchers from RMIT University have uncovered a new technique to make atomically thin flakes of different materials, a process that could lead to faster, more efficient electronics.
In this method, certain metals are dissolved in liquid metal. Then, the resulting super-thin oxide layer is peeled off and can be used for various purposes. While it has not been extensively tested yet, the technique is predicted to work on roughly one-third of the periodic table.
As a proof of concept, scientists have used the method to create hafnium oxide with a thickness of just three atoms. That is roughly five to ten times thinner than hafnium oxide layers produced with other techniques. To get that thinness, researchers worked with the material for 18 long months.
“Here we found an extraordinary, yet very simple method to create atomically thin flakes of materials that don’t naturally exist as layered structures,” said study co-author Dr Torben Daeneke, a researcher at RMIT’s School of Engineering, according to Gizmodo Australia.
To do this, scientists use non-toxic alloys of gallium — a metal similar to aluminum — as a reaction medium to cover the surface of the liquid metal with atomically thin oxide layers of the added metal rather than the naturally occurring gallium oxide. Then, they exfoliate the oxide layer by touching the liquid metal with a smooth surface. Not only that but, as gallium alloy is liquid at room temperature, the process can be done safely at ambient conditions.
The new research is important because it could help scientists create semiconducting and dielectric components. Both of those are key for a lot of current technology. By making such components extremely thin, the team may be able to create stronger, more energy efficient electronics. The products could have applications in devices like batteries as well.
“The most important outcome of our work is that we introduce liquid metals as a reaction solvent which opens the door to a whole new type of chemistry,” added Daeneke, according to Yahoo News.
The recent findings are outlined in the journal Science.