Graphene is a super strong, super thin and versatile material that has been attracting a lot of attention lately. Scientists hope that it could someday revolutionize the world, but it is still far from ready for prime time.
One of the primary problems is that graphene, just a single atom thick, is incredibly difficult and expensive to mass-produce. A group of researchers at Stanford feel like they have found a solution using the blueprints for all life, DNA.
Using DNA as a mechanism to construct graphene, the scientists were able to build a transistor, the part that starts and stops the flow of electricity to create the ones and zeroes necessary for software. While this is still very early, the Stanford researchers hope that their research could lead to revolutionary new processors that are far smaller and faster than anything possible today.
Led by Stanford chemical engineering professor Zhenan Bao, the researchers dipped a silicon platter into a solution of DNA and combed it into straight lines. This was exposed to a copper salt solution, allowing the DNA to absorb copper ions, and then to heat and methane gas. Carbon atoms freed by heat joined together to create the chicken wire-like structure of graphene.
"Our DNA-based fabrication method is highly scalable, offers high resolution and low manufacturing cost," Fung Ling Yap, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford, said. "All these advantages make the method very attractive for industrial adoption."
The researchers then used these tiny ribbons of graphene to make working transistors.
The process still has several kinks to be worked out. Not all of the carbon atoms formed into graphene, instead bunching together into irregular patterns and thicknesses.
But the research is only two years old. With some more refinement, it could provide a solution for mass-producing graphene, which could drastically accelerate research into the material.