Scientists create stable nanofilms containing boron and hydrogen atoms with potential applications in nanoelectronics and quantum information technology.
What is thinner than thin? One answer is two-dimensional materials: exotic scientific materials that are long and wide, but only one or two atoms thick. They offer the possibility of unprecedented improvements in the performance of electronic devices, solar cells, batteries and medical equipment.
In collaboration with Northwestern University and the University of Florida, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory report in the journal Science a breakthrough involving a 2D material called borophane, a boron sheet, and hydrogen. barely two atoms thick.
One of the most exciting developments in materials science in recent decades has been a sheet of 2D carbon (graphene), which is one atom thick and 200 times stronger than steel. An equally promising and newer material is a one-atom-thick boron sheet, called borophene, with an “e” on it. A multi-agency team, including researchers from the Argonne Center for Nanoscale Materials (a DOE Office of Science user facility), first synthesized borophene in 2015.
While graphene is simply one atomic layer of the many equal layers in the common material graphite, borophene has no equivalent parent structure and is very difficult to prepare. In addition, the rapid reaction of borophene with air means that it is very unstable and changes shape easily.
“Borophene alone has all kinds of problems,” said Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. “But when we mix borophene with hydrogen, the product suddenly becomes much more stable and attractive for use in the burgeoning fields of nanoelectronics and quantum information technology.”
The research team grew borophene on a silver substrate and then exposed it to hydrogen to form borophene. They then unraveled the complex structure of borophan by combining a tunneling microscope with a computer vision-based algorithm that compares theoretical simulations of structures with experimental measurements. Computer vision is a branch of artificial intelligence that trains high-performance computers to interpret and understand the visual world.
Although the boron material is only two atoms thick, its structure is quite complex due to the many possible arrangements of the boron and hydrogen atoms.
“We have tackled a significant challenge in determining atomic structures from scanning tunnel microscopy images and atomic-scale computational modeling with the help of computer vision,” said Maria Chan de Argonne, Nanoscientist at the Center for Nanoscale materials. Given the success in unraveling this complex structure, the team’s automated analytical technique should be applicable in identifying other complex nanostructures in the future.
“What’s really encouraging about our results is that we found that a borophan nanoplate on a silver substrate is quite stable, unlike borophene,” said Pierre Darancet, a nanoscientist at the Argonne Center for Nanoscale Materials.
“This means that it should be easily integrated with other materials in the construction of new devices for optoelectronics, devices that combine light with electronics.” Such light emitting and control devices could be incorporated into telecommunications, medical equipment, and more.
“These findings are an important step in realizing the incredible potential of borophan as a two-dimensional material for nanoelectronics,” Chan said.
Investigation report: “Synthesis of borophan polymorphs by borophene hydrogenation”
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