An interdisciplinary team of Columbia researchers has won a major collaborative research grant from the Department of Defense to develop new materials technology. The grant, shared with Cornell University researchers, will provide $1.5 million a year for five years to explore the unique properties of graphene, a one-atom-thick crystal of pure carbon similar to graphite found in pencils or graphite lubricant.
The Columbia researchers are Louis Brus, professor of chemical engineering and Samuel Latham Mitchell Professor of Chemistry; George Flynn, professor of chemical engineering and Higgins Professor of Chemistry; Tony Heinz, David M. Rickey Professor of Optical Communication in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Physics; James Hone, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Philip Kim, associate professor of physics; Richard Osgood, Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics; and Ken Shepard, professor of electrical engineering. The Columbia-Cornell grant is one of 41 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grants given nationwide and is led by Principal Investigator Richard Osgood; the Air Force Program Manager is Dr. Donald Silversmith.
Currently, silicon chips are the industry standard for computers and other sophisticated electronic devices, such as medical and aviation sensors, ultrahigh-frequency analog electronics used in fiber optic transmission, and radar. Work at Cornell and Columbia recently has shown that the properties that make silicon chips so essential are also present in graphene. In fact, graphene holds the promise of being the material from which the next generation of chips will be made.
“All forms of silicon electronics have common elements,” says Osgood. “First, they use planar patterning; second, individual transistors can be reliably combined into a modern integrated circuit, and, most important, operation of these devices requires charge carriers that can move with speed across a chip. We’ve shown that graphene’s electrical transport and mechanical strength are superior and provide a new approach to developing microchips and other integrated electronic devices.”
Graphene samples can be made in several different ways, explains Osgood, including “peel off” from a bulk sample of graphite or by growth on special surfaces, or substrates. “Since carbon is one of the most chemically ‘malleable’ materials, graphene has extraordinary electron-transport properties, its monolayer thickness yields exquisite sensitivity to changes in environment, and its mechanical and thermal properties equal or exceed those of the best conventional materials,” he says. “The superior properties of graphene and graphene-related materials present an extraordinary opportunity for enabling new classes of electronic, optoelectronic, and electromechanical devices and sensors.”
The Columbia-Cornell research will collaborate to develop new growth and fabrication technologies for graphene that, when coupled with improved understanding of its critical underlying physical properties, will enable novel device concepts. The research will be focused on three types of advanced electronic and nanoscale electromechanical devices that illustrate the potential for new or dramatically enhanced functionality, collaborating with industry and the Air Force Research Laboratory to gain insight into their needs.
Cornell University research partners on the MURI grant include Professors Michael Spencer, Paul McEuen, Farhan Rana, Edwin Kan, and Sandip Tiwari. The MURI program supports research by teams of investigators that intersect more than one traditional science and engineering discipline to accelerate both research progress and transition of research results to application.