No more shattered screens?

Materials World magazine
2 Jun 2017
We've all done it... (Photo: Burdun Iliya)

Researchers have developed a new hybrid electronic material. 

Most of us have experienced that awful moment – a smartphone slips out of your hand, seemingly in slow motion, towards a hard and unforgiving surface. It always lands face down, but you know exactly what’s on the other side as you bend down to pick it up.

Now, a team of international researchers led by Dr Elton Santos at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, has produced a light hybrid material that can conduct electricity at unprecedented speeds, is easy to manufacture and more durable than current touchscreen devices.

The team created the material by combining semiconducting buckminsterfullernes (commonly known as ‘bucky-balls’) with layered materials such as graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (hBN). The hBN provides stability, electronic compatability and isolation charge to graphene, while the bucky-balls can also convert sunlight into electricity.

‘Our findings show that this new “miracle material” has similar physical properties to silicon but it has improved chemical stability, lightness and flexibility, which could potentially be used in smart devices and would be much less likely to break.’ Dr Santos explained.

‘The material also could mean that devices use less energy than before because of the device architecture, so could have improved battery life and less electric shocks,’ he added.

Developed in partnership with Stanford University, the University of California and California State University, USA, and the National Institute for Materials Science, Japan, the findings have been published in ACS Nano.

One issue that remains unresolved is that the material’s architecture lacks a bandgap, which is essential for on-off switching operations that electronic devices rely on. Dr Santos’ team is now exploring the use of transition metal dichalcogenides to overcome this.