'Atomically thin' transistors could help make electronic skins a reality
Electronic skin only becomes really useful when it's thin enough to be practically imperceptible, and scientists may have just made this breakthrough. Stanford researchers have developed a new technique that produces "atomically thin" transistors less than 100 nanometers in length. According to the university, this is "many times" shorter than the previous record.
The team did the feat by overcoming a longstanding hurdle in flexible technology. Although “2D” semiconductors are ideal, they require so much heat to make them that they would melt the flexible plastic. The new approach involves glass-coated silicon with a super-thin semiconductor film (molybdenum disulfide) overlaid with nanostructured gold electrodes. This creates a film only three atoms thick at a temperature of nearly 1,500 ° F - the conventional plastic substrate would have deformed about 680 ° F.
After the components have cooled down, the team can apply the film to the substrate and, in a few “additional manufacturing steps”, create an entire structure around five micrometers thick, which is a tenth the thickness of a human hair. In fact, it is ideal for use with low power consumption as it can handle high currents at low voltages.
There is still more to be done. The researchers want to refine the flexible technology as well as include a wireless technology that would enable networking without bulky hardware. This also ignores the usual challenges with such a technology - the inventors would have to find a way to mass-produce these transistors at reasonable prices. If successful, however, this could lead to highly efficient e-skins, implants, and other flexible devices that are barely noticeable.
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