A new study by an international team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota highlights how our modern day devices could be made faster, smaller and better by manipulating two-dimensional (2D) materials. Their findings are published in a paper in Nature Materials.

Two-dimensional materials are a class of nanomaterials that are only a few atoms in thickness. Electrons in these materials are free to move in the 2D plane, but their motion in the third dimension is restricted by quantum mechanics. Research on these nanomaterials is still in its infancy, but 2D materials such as graphene, transition metal dichalcogenides and black phosphorus have already garnered tremendous attention from scientists and engineers for their amazing properties and potential to improve electronic and photonic devices.

In this new study, researchers from the University of Minnesota, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, US Naval Research Laboratory, IBM, and universities in Brazil, the UK and Spain, teamed up to examine the optical properties of several dozen 2D materials. The goal was to unify understanding of light-matter interactions in these materials among researchers and explore new possibilities for future research.

In the paper, the researchers discuss how polaritons, a class of quasiparticles formed through the coupling of photons of light with electric charge dipoles in solid materials, could allow researchers to marry the speed of photons with the small size of electrons.

"With our devices, we want speed, efficiency, and we want small. Polaritons could offer the answer," said Tony Low, a University of Minnesota electrical and computer engineering assistant professor and lead author of the study.

"With our devices, we want speed, efficiency, and we want small. Polaritons could offer the answer."Tony Low, University of Minnesota

By exciting the polaritons in 2D materials, electromagnetic energy can be focused down to a volume a million times smaller than it occupies when propagating in free space. "Layered two-dimensional materials have emerged as a fantastic toolbox for nano-photonics and nano-optoelectronics, providing tailored design and tunability for properties that are not possible to realize with conventional materials," said Frank Koppens, group leader at the Barcelona Institute of Photonic Sciences in Spain and co-author of the study. "This will offer tremendous opportunities for applications."

Members of the team from private industry also recognize the potential for practical applications. "The study of the plasmon-polaritons in two-dimensions is not only a fascinating research subject, but also offers possibilities for important technological applications," said Phaedon Avoruris, IBM fellow at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center and co-author of the study. "For example, an atomic layer material like graphene extends the field of plasmonics to the infrared and terahertz regions of the electromagnetic spectrum allowing unique applications ranging from sensing and fingerprinting minute amounts of biomolecules, to applications in optical communications, energy harvesting and security imaging."

The new study also examined the possibilities for combining different 2D materials. Researchers point out that every 2D material has advantages and disadvantages; combining these materials could create new materials that possess the best qualities of both.

"Every time we look at a new material, we find something new," Low said. "Graphene is often considered a 'wonder' material, but combining it with another material may make it even better for a wide variety of applications."

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