They have devised a simple and quick one-step process based on thermochemical nanolithography (TCNL) for creating nanowires, tuning the electronic properties of reduced graphene oxide on the nanoscale and thereby allowing it to switch from being an insulating material to a conducting material.

The technique works with multiple forms of graphene and is poised to become an important finding for the development of graphene electronics. [Wei et al., Science (2010) 328, 1373].

Scientists who work with nanocircuits are enthusiastic about graphene because electrons meet with less resistance when they travel along graphene compared to silicon and because today’s silicon transistors are nearly as small as allowed by the laws of physics. Graphene also has the edge due to its thickness - it’s a carbon sheet that is a single atom thick. While graphene nanoelectronics could be faster and consume less power than silicon, no one knew how to produce graphene nanostructures on such a reproducible or scalable method. That is until now.

“We’ve shown that by locally heating insulating graphene oxide, both the flakes and epitaxial varieties, with an atomic force microscope tip, we can write nanowires with dimensions down to 12 nanometers. And we can tune their electronic properties to be up to four orders of magnitude more conductive. We’ve seen no sign of tip wear or sample tearing,” said Elisa Riedo, associate professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

On the macroscale, the conductivity of graphene oxide can be changed from an insulating material to a more conductive graphene-like material using large furnaces. Now, the research team used TCNL to increase the temperature of reduced graphene oxide at the nanoscale, so they can draw graphene-like nanocircuits. They found that when it reached 130 degrees Celsius, the reduced graphene oxide began to become more conductive.

“So the beauty of this is that we’ve devised a simple, robust and reproducible technique that enables us to change an insulating sample into a conducting nanowire. These properties are the hallmark of a productive technology,” said Paul Sheehan, head of the Surface Nanoscience and Sensor Technology Section at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.