Summary:

A compound discovered at MIT naturally has a feature known as a bandgap, which controls how electricity flows through it. Graphene does not have a bandgap, creating a challenge for adapting it to different applications.

Graphene alternative Ni3(HITP)2
photo: MIT

When electricity moves through silicon transistors in a computer chip, its flow can be turned on and off like a faucet. But if the transistors were made with the basic form of graphene, an emerging material that could someday challenge silicon, the electricity would move more like a waterfall: fast, with no way to switch it off.

That’s because graphene lacks a feature known as a bandgap, which can regulate how electrons flow through it. So while graphene might have huge promise in the electronics and solar industries because of its unusual properties, it’s unusable in its basic form for many of those applications. Researchers are busy creating ways to modify graphene to give it a bandgap, but they are also looking at other two dimensional materials that already have one.

MIT researchers announced today that they have added another candidate to the list of 2D alternatives. A new compound, which goes by the particularly catchy name Ni3(HITP)2, has a natural bandgap and shares some of graphene’s features.

Electricity flows through the compound well and has the same honeycomb-like structure as graphene, which lends it strength. It also assembles itself, meaning researchers don’t have to develop a precise manufacturing technique to construct the compound. That could make it easier to make in large batches, which is currently a challenge with graphene.

The team believes the compound might be well suited for use in solar cells and ultracapacitors. They could also pursue developing a whole group of similar materials that might offer small improvements.

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