First Year Nanoscience Students Advance Toward Self-Assembling Nanoelectronics
First year nanoscience students at the University of Copenhagen have made an important advance toward self-assembling nanoelectronics – tiny molecular circuits that spontaneously self-assemble from chemical substances in appropriate conditions.
The research results are published in ChemNanoMat with the title “Template-Guided Ionic Self-Assembled Molecular Materials and Thin Films with Nanoscopic Order.” The paper is freely available online at the time of writing.
A Very Significant Result in Molecular Electronics
“This is a clear step forward towards self-assembling electronics. By mixing solutions of the right substances, we automatically built structures that in principle could have been solar cells or transistors. What is more, is that they were built in the same way that nature builds such things as cell membranes,” said Thomas Just Sørensen (in the top picture), an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen. “For us as a university, the big news is obviously that first year students conducted the research. But, we achieved a very significant result in molecular electronics as well.”
The goal of self-assembling molecular electronics research is to use chemistry-based methods to assemble transistors and other electronic components such as resistors, LED screens, and solar cells. This could result in smaller, cheaper and more flexible, as well as more environmentally sustainable electronics. But, while electronic engineers can draw an integrated circuit on silicon, molecular components must self-organize in usable structures.
“It doesn’t help to have a pile of transistors, if you don’t know which way they are turned,” said Just Sørensen. “These cannot be combined in a way to make them work, and one won’t know which end to connect to electric current.”
The method developed by the University of Copenhagen researchers doesn’t produce working electronic circuits – yet. The researchers used commercial chemical components – soaps, dish-soaps and washing powder – to assemble component-like chemical substances in molecular-ordered films.
“We were able to obtain a structure simply by mixing the right substances. Even random substances were able to organize well, and layer, so that we now have complete control over where the molecules are, and in which direction they are oriented. The next step is to incorporate functionality within the layers,” said Just Sørensen.
The molecules used in the experiments have no electronic functionality. Just Sørensen said:
If they did, we would have been on the cover of Science instead of in a ChemNanoMat article.
In the long term, however, the techniques developed by the students could permit developing powerful and economical solar energy facilities, as well as improved screen technologies.
Images from University of Copenhagen.