Researchers at AMBER have managed to crack a method of printing electronics in 2D for the first time using graphene, potentially leading to smart food labels.
The days when electronics could only be used in particular circumstances – such as being connected to bulky equipment or in silicon motherboards – are rapidly disappearing into antiquity.
In Ireland alone, researchers within the field of micropower have been able to shrink a viable power source for devices down to the smallest of scales, capable of being placed in the human body.
Now, researchers at the AMBER centre in Trinity College Dublin have found a way of printing electronics on 2D material for the first time.
In a paper published to the journal Science, Prof Jonathan Coleman and colleagues at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands revealed that this was possible with standard printing techniques.
They achieved this using graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, while tungsten diselenide and boron nitride were used as the channel and separator – two important parts of a transistor.
When combined, the two form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.
What makes this a considerable breakthrough in the fields of electronics and materials science is that not only are they highly flexible, but they are also cheap to produce.
For the past 30 years, attempts at printable electronics have been based mainly on carbon molecules.
Smart labels on everything
While these molecules can easily be turned into printable inks, such materials are somewhat unstable and have well-known performance limitations.
There have been many attempts to surpass these obstacles using alternative materials, such as carbon nanotubes or inorganic nanoparticles, but these materials have also shown limitations in either performance or manufacturability.
This research is now able to offer the first successful attempt at entirely 2D electronics but, as of now, it still lacks the power of current, advanced transistors.
This discovery opens the path for industries such as ICT and pharmaceutical to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs, with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.
Coleman said: “Printed electronic circuitry will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information; for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out of date.”