UK breakthrough promises to unlock potential of dozens of atomically-thin materials

Researchers at Manchester University have announced the development a range of specialised fabrication methods that they claim could be used to produce dozens of useful new 2-dimensional materials similar to graphene.

The isolation of graphene in 2004 by a Manchester University team lead by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov led to the discovery of a range of 2D materials, each with specific properties and qualities. However, until now the vast majority of these atomically thin 2D crystals are unstable in air, so react and decompose before their properties can be determined and their potential applications investigated.

Writing in the journal Nano Letters, the Manchester team, led by Dr Roman Gorbachev, explains how by protecting the new reactive crystals with more stable 2D materials, such as graphene, via computer control in a specially designed inert gas chamber environments, these materials can be successfully isolated to a single atomic layer for the first time.

The team used method on two particular two-dimensional crystals that have generated intense scientific interest in the past 12 months but are unstable in air: black phosphorus and niobium diselenide.

Dr Gorbachev said: “This is an important breakthrough in the area of 2D materials research, as it allows us to dramatically increase the variety of materials that we can experiment with using our expanding 2D crystal toolbox.

“The more materials we have to play with, the greater potential there is for creating applications that could revolutionise the way we live.” Sir Andre Geim added.

The latest breakthrough could allow for many more atomically thin materials to be studied separately as well as serve as building blocks for multilayer devices with such tailored properties. Combining a range of 2D materials in thin stacks give scientists the opportunity to control the properties of the materials, which can allow ‘materials-to-order’ to meet the demands of industry.