The discovery of the atom-thick sheets of carbon known as graphene by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester in 2004 has inspired the development of dozens of new two-dimensional (2D) materials. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these atomically-thin 2D crystals are unstable in air, so react and decompose before their properties can be determined and their potential applications investigated.

Writing in Nano Letters, a team of scientists from the University of Manchester, including Geim and Novoselov, now demonstrate how tailored fabrication methods can make these previously inaccessible materials useful.

"The more materials we have to play with, the greater potential there is for creating applications that could revolutionize the way we live."Sir Andre Geim, University of Manchester

These fabrication methods involve protecting the new reactive crystals with more stable 2D materials, such as graphene, via computer control in a specially-designed inert gas chamber environment, allowing the 2D materials to be isolated as single atomic layers for the first time. This breakthrough could allow many more atomically thin materials to be studied separately, as well as serve as building blocks for multilayer devices with tailored properties.

Combining a range of 2D materials in thin stacks gives scientists the opportunity to control the properties of the materials, allowing the synthesis of 'materials-to-order' to meet the demands of industry. High-frequency electronics for satellite communications and light weight batteries for mobile energy storage are just two of the application areas that could benefit from this research.

The team, led by Roman Gorbachev, used their unique fabrication method on two 2D crystals that have generated intense scientific interest in the past 12 months but are unstable in air: black phosphorus and niobium diselenide. The technique the team have pioneered allows the unique characteristics and excellent electronic properties of these air-sensitive 2D crystals to be revealed for the first time.

"This is an important breakthrough in the area of 2D materials research, as it allows us to dramatically increase the variety of materials that we can experiment with using our expanding 2D crystal toolbox,” explained Gorbachev.

"The more materials we have to play with, the greater potential there is for creating applications that could revolutionize the way we live," said Geim.

This story is adapted from material from the University of Manchester, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.