One-Atom Thick

What could be better than a material that’s super flexible, only one atom thick, and is 200 times stronger than steel? A material that’s equally strong and flexible, also only one atom thick, and inexpensive.

Scientists are asserting that this new discovery could potentially upstage the world's greatest wonder material, graphene.

A physicist from the University of Kentucky is now working with scientists from Daimler in Germany as well as the Institute for Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL) in Greece to create a new material made from elements such as silicon, boron, and nitrogen. These building blocks mean that the material will be less expensive, more stable, and ultimately better than graphene—in theory, at least.

"We used simulations to see if the bonds would break or disintegrate - it didn't happen," said Madhu Menon, a physicist in the UK Center for Computational Sciences. "We heated the material up to 1,000 degree Celsius and it still didn't break."

It sounds impressive, but to date, the material hasn't actually been made. It only exists on computer simulations; however, scientists are working to rectify this now.

Theoretical Computations
Graphene bilayer. Image via WikiMedia

Menon, Ernst Richter (from Daimler) and Antonis Andriotis (from IESL) have used state-of-the-art theoretical computations to demonstrate the feasibility of creating a one-atom thick, 2D material made from the aforementioned Earth-abundant elements, and the material could have possible applications beyond what graphene can currently do.

To clarify, graphene, for all its potential, has a big downside: It isn’t a semiconductor and, as a result, has very limited application in digital technology.

This led scientists to continue working on finding alternative materials, and that led to the discovery of three-layer materials known as transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), which can be used to to make digital processors. Unfortunately, while they can process more efficiently, they are thicker and not so abundant on Earth.

"We know that silicon-based technology is reaching its limit because we are putting more and more components together and making electronic processors more and more compact," Menon said. "But we know that this cannot go on indefinitely; we need smarter materials."

The calculations that studied the possibility of this new material were made on computers at the UK Center for Computational Sciences. The next step is to now to produce the same results the computer tests generated in a lab setting...and of course, actually make the material.

"We are very anxious for this to be made in the lab," Menon said. "The ultimate test of any theory is experimental verification, so the sooner the better!"

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