A nanowire just three atoms in width is the thinnest wire ever created and could revolutionize the mobile phone industry. Smartphones currently use wires one thousand times wider than the new nanowires.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers created the flexible electrical conductors using a highly-focused beam of electrons. The wires were formed through the use of transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), a class of materials known to form into sheets just one atom thick. This raw substance is created by the addition of sulfur or selenium to a mixture of tungsten and molybdenum.
Transistors and flash memory gates have already been created by other investigators from TMDC's. Development of nanowires provides a new method to connect the microscopic devices.
Sheets just one atom thick provide unique electrical and thermal properties not found in traditional materials. Monolayer circuitry is also flexible, meaning the nanowires may be used to build electronic tablets as thin as a sheet of paper. Televisions could also become as thin as a dime.
"This will likely stimulate a huge research interest in monolayer circuit design," Junhao Lin, a visiting scientist at the facility who managed the development, said.
A scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) used to create the nanowires created a beam of electrons, having a width half as wide as an average atom.
The nanowires are not perfectly shaped, as areas of the wires are thicker than the preferred three-atom width. Even in those imperfect regions, the ribbon continues under the additional material.
Future applications of the nanowires could, one day, include internet-connected devices in clothing, greeting cards and even in human bodies. Durability of the mechanisms would be unlike anything in use by the public today.
"[T]he nanowires remain conductive while undergoing severe mechanical deformations, thus showing promise for mechanically robust flexible electronics," Lin and his team wrote in the article announcing the invention.
Graphene, another material created in sheets one atom thick, has been shown to have a wide range of unique properties unlike any other substance. However, significant challenges have been encountered by developers attempting to use the material for electronic components. These new wires may one day work together with graphene in flexible electronic boards so thin, that thousands of them could fit across the width of a human hair.
Integrated circuits today are typically just half an inch across but contain up to 20 miles of wires. This makes wires essential to the creation of electronic devices.
Development of the nanowires was profiled in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.