Thin oxide layers are essential for modern electronics. They are used in transistors and even in touch screens. The thinner the oxide, the less energy is wasted and the faster response of the device is. However, making thin oxide layers is really difficult because they do not like being removed from base metal and transferred somewhere else. But now RMIT developed a new way of producing exceptionally thin oxide layers.
RMIT scientists used liquid metal to form extremely thin oxide layers – just a couple of atoms thick. The best part is that they peel off easily and could be used in various electronic components making them more efficient and faster. Science community is already calling this achievement “once-in-a-decade discovery”. These extremely thin oxide layers are not known to exist. In fact, they definitely did not exist in natural setting and they could not be manufactured in laboratories using conventional methods. It took 18 months of experimentation, but scientists succeeded and it is all thanks to liquid metal usage.
Graphene exists naturally. This carbon material is found in flakes in natural setting. In fact, when you’re writing with a pencil, you are leaving tiny flakes of graphene behind. However, even though graphene does exist in layered structures, scientists still had trouble manufacturing it, so you can imagine how difficult it is to create a structure that simply does not exist – metal oxide flakes. Scientists managed to create a relatively simple method to solve such a complex problem. Dr Torben Daeneke, one of the leaders of the study, explained: “We use non-toxic alloys of gallium (a metal similar to aluminium) as a reaction medium. This covers the surface of the liquid metal with atomically thin oxide layers of the added metal rather than the naturally occurring gallium oxide”.
The oxide layer can then be extracted by touching liquid metal to a smooth surface. Production of oxide flakes can be increased by foaming up the metal – similarly to how milk is frothed. Scientists say that overall method is so cheap and simple, it can be completed by a non-scientists in a kitchen. Furthermore, this process would probably work with other metals as well, including semiconducting or dielectric materials. This breakthrough could make electronics much faster and more efficient using materials that were never available before.
It is hard to describe how important this discovery is. It will improve your everyday electronics, make changes in the science of chemistry and some industrial equipment. Atomically thin oxide layers may be one of the greatest achievements of the decade.
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