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Nanoelectronics June 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Guy Garrud

Phosphorene Nanoribbons

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers have long suspected that phosphorene nanoribbons could exhibit highly advantageous properties. Fabrication of this material represents a significant step forward and enables a detailed investigation of its potential across a wide range of applications.

Description

In April 2019, researchers from University College London, the University of Bristol, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne announced the first fabrication of individual phosphorene nanoribbons. The material—a crystalline two-dimensional (2D) strip of phosphorus—is extremely flexible and exhibits impressive electronic properties that are also dependent on the orientation of the crystal structure of the nanoribbon. The researchers, working in collaboration with the University of Bristol spinout company Bristol Nano Dynamics, were able to produce and characterize the high-quality nanoribbons, determining that the number of stacked 2D layers has a significant impact on the band gap of the material. The researchers used a liquid-based fabrication technique that is scalable and low in cost and produces stable solutions of nanoribbons with widths that are typically between 4 and 50 nanometers (and with highly uniform widths along each nanoribbon) and lengths of up to 75,000 nanometers.

The team demonstrated that the material possesses the conductance and stability necessary for low-energy computing applications. In addition to developing their understanding of the fundamental material properties further, the researchers intend to investigate the potential of phosphorene nanoribbons' finding use in a variety of commercial applications, including energy storage, electron-transport applications, and thermoelectric devices.

Implications

For some time, scientists have predicted that phosphorene nanoribbons could exhibit highly interesting properties for the electronics industry. The first fabrication of the material confirms that it is indeed flexible and exhibits directionally dependent electronic properties leading to, for example, a high degree of control over the material's band structure. This development therefore represents a significant step forward for materials science, potentially leading to the use of the material across a wide range of applications. Furthermore, industrial involvement in the collaboration could accelerate any subsequent commercialization efforts. The solution-based processing techniques will also ease the path to any eventual commercialization, enabling volume production in a cost-effective manner.

Impacts/Disruptions

Fabricating, in a scalable way, a novel material with highly desirable material properties is the type of innovation that could, with time, significantly affect the nanoelectronics sector. However, this initial fabrication is unlikely to result in any significant impact in the short- to mediumterm future. The material, like any other emerging development in materials science, will require substantial additional research to enable it to add value in a commercial setting. The investment in graphene research in the past decade (an example of an accelerated exploitation model in the advanced-materials industry) serves as the perfect parallel for the efforts that would be necessary to bring phosphorene nanoribbons to the point at which they could begin to have an impact on the nanoelectronics sector. However, with the necessary investment—of both money and time—phosphorene nanoribbons could potentially see use in flexible electronics, energy storage, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, photocatalysis, and quantum computing.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Electronics, wearables, energy storage, photovoltaics, energy harvesting, quantum computing

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Neuromorphic Computing Advances

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Recent research demonstrates a significant breakthrough in the neuromorphic computing field, accelerating technological development and potentially bringing forward the point at which neuromorphic systems can compete with conventional computing systems.

Description

Neuromorphic computing is an emerging processing technology that mimics the architecture of the human brain with the potential to support the wide range of machine-learning applications that appear destined to dominate the future technological landscape. In April 2019, scientists from Sandia National Laboratories, Stanford University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst published the results of their research into organic electronics, programming, and solid-state electrochemistry that could potentially lead to a significant step forward in the field by mimicking the neurobiological architecture of the human brain. The researchers developed what they term an "ionic floating-gate memory array" based on a nanoscale polymer redox transistor connected to a conductive-bridge memory—enabling it to use ions (rather than electrons) to store information. A key advantage of the system is that, rather than separating data storage and computing, it can save and process information in the same location, dramatically enhancing the power efficiency of the system, while simultaneously improving computing speeds—the redox transistors are capable of more than 1 billion read-write cycles and support a read-write frequency of greater than 1 megahertz (corresponding to an order of magnitude improvement in comparison with current high-end computers). Moving forward, the researchers intend to develop a more in-depth understanding of the fundamental operation of the redox transistors, leading to larger, more complex, arrays and faster devices that developers can more easily integrate with conventional electronics systems.

Implications

This research demonstrates a substantial step forward in the field of neuromorphic computing, with the device exhibiting the speed, endurance, and low power consumption necessary for a neuromorphic system that can find use in real applications. Consequently, this innovation offers up one means by which the capabilities of neuromorphic computing could, one day, surpass those of conventional, silicon-based systems. However, the field remains very much at an embryonic stage and is unlikely to be able to compete with more established technologies for a considerable time yet.

Impacts/Disruptions

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are still in relatively early stages of commercialization. However, as these fields develop and become increasingly ubiquitous across several aspects of modern society, conventional data-processing techniques are likely to encounter increasing difficulty in handling the vast volumes of data that lie at the heart of these applications. Neuromorphic computing is a potential solution for this need to process large quantities of data efficiently across applications such as voice recognition, image processing, or autonomous driving. The eventual introduction of neuromorphic technology could also signal a shift away from the reliance on cloud-based computing—the most viable means of processing the volumes of data necessary for machine-learning applications such as the virtual assistants that are currently popular.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Advanced computing, machine learning

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: