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Hardware Science

Scientists Build Graphene From Scratch, Atom By Atom 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-bet-that-goes-quick dept.
MrSeb writes "You've heard of 'designer babies,' the idea that you can customize a baby by altering its DNA, but now a team of researchers from Stanford University and the Department of Energy have meddled around with the very fabric of reality and created the very first 'designer electrons.' The bulk of the universe is made up from just a few dozen elements, and each of these elements is made up of just a few subatomic particles: electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, and so on. For the most part, the properties of every material — its flexibility, strength, conductivity — is governed by the bonds between its constituent atoms, which in turn dictate a molecule's arrangement of electrons. In short, if you can manually move electrons around, you can create different or entirely new materials. That's exactly what Stanford University has done: Using a scanning tunneling microscope, the team of researchers placed individual carbon monoxide molecules on a clean sheet of copper to create 'molecular graphene' — an entirely new substance that definitely isn't graphene, but with electrons that act a lot like graphene (abstract). It is now possible, then, for scientists to create entirely new materials or tweak existing materials — like silicon or copper, or another important element — to make them stronger or more conductive. Where will this particular avenue lead us?"
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Scientists Build Graphene From Scratch, Atom By Atom

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  • Alchemy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:08PM (#39392415)

    Is this alchemy?

  • Issues of scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ancienthart (924862) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:19PM (#39392467)

    It is now possible, then, for scientists to create entirely new materials or tweak existing materials — like silicon or copper, or another important element — to make them stronger or more conductive. Where will this particular avenue lead us?

    Nowhere, unless you only want blocks of it 1 or 2 nanometers across, and are prepared to take a few hours to manufacture it.
    In this case, a scanning tunnelling microscope is being used by having a single massive (on an atomic scale) probe manipulating single atoms at a time. Until we can control millions of atoms at this degree of resolution AND at the same time (smaller parallel probes, or some fancy trick with complex electrical fields on a single probe tip), this is scientifically interesting, but useless for the bulk manufacture the poster hints at.

  • Re:Alchemy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NicknameAvailable (2581237) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:22PM (#39392487)

    I think the bigger question is, "how would you move this process to a FAB"? I don't think it will happen soon, but it seems to me we would need robotic STMs? Research is continuing... I assume.

    Nice generic smaller technology quip, but I think you missed the point of TFA and what the posters you were responding to (hint, they read and understood it). You should actually read it, its more about a change in the understanding of physics than new chips.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:27PM (#39392511) Homepage

    What the hell does this guy think he's talking about? The article is interesting but "designer babies"? "The fabric of reality"? Where do you people get this stuff?

  • Re:Issues of scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dbIII (701233) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:33PM (#39392531)
    Are you merely another "wake me up when you can buy it all Walmart" cargo cult luddite or do you set your sights higher?
    Science is often a series of steps instead of great breakthoughs. For example the aluminium metal used around you today was not initially produced by the current method, but instead by an incredibly difficult and expensive method which later inspired other ways to produce it.
    Currently we don't know the best way to make graphene but doing it the difficult way that will actually work may inspire a better way to do it and may uncover materials we've never seriously thought of because there's no obvious simple way to do it.
  • Re:Alchemy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hartree (191324) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:35PM (#39392543)

    No, it's not alchemy.

    It's just a slight riff on things we've been doing for a long time. Placing atoms or molecules in layers or patterns so that their associated electrons have certain characteristics.

    We've been doing patterning of atoms/molucules with STMs for decades now.

    It's interesting work, but the description seems awfully breathless.

    "Meddling with the very fabric of reality"?

    Gimme a break. *eye-roll*

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:41PM (#39392569) Homepage

    "Designer baby" is just a buzzphrase. It serves no purpose other than to derogate people who might want to reduce the role of chance in the genetics of their children. It means whatever the speaker wants it to mean.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:48PM (#39392805)

    "... graphene".

    We may not know the best way to make it, but we sure know one that's a hell of a lot simpler and more scalable than assembling it atom by atom, and that's the technique where you pull individual molecular layers off graphite by sticking a piece of sticky tape to it and ripping it off quickly. A chinese factory full of workers doing that all day long will produce a ton of graphene a hell of a lot more quickly and cheaply than anyone with an AFM.

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