According to a statement, the researchers have found that boron nitride influences how electrons flow through graphene, the one-atom-thick form of carbon that is regularly heralded as the next big thing in the quest for smaller and less power-hungry electronics.
‘If you want to make a transistor, for example, you need to be able to stop the flow of electrons,’ said Brian LeRoy, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s department of physics. ‘But in graphene, the electrons just keep going. It’s difficult to stop them.’
LeRoy’s group, which has published a paper on the research in the journal Nature Physics, found that mounting graphene on boron nitride prevents some of the electrons from passing through the material, a first step toward a more controlled electron flow.
The team also showed that in addition to providing mechanical support, boron nitride improves the electronic properties of graphene by smoothening out fluctuations in the electronic charges.
The group achieved this feat by placing graphene sheets onto boron nitride at certain angles, resulting in the hexagonal structures in both materials to overlap in such a way that secondary, larger hexagonal patterns are created. The researchers call this structure a superlattice.
The discovery puts the technology slightly closer to someday being able to actually control the flow of electrons through the graphene, the authors of the paper said.
If it becomes possible to automate this process, graphene-based microelectronics could replace traditional silicon components.