18-Jan-2011 - National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

New research shows how light can control electrical properties of graphene

New research shows how light can be used to control the electrical properties of graphene, paving the way for graphene-based optoelectronic devices and highly sensitive sensors.

This year's Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded for research into graphene, recognising its potential for many applications in modern life, from high-speed electronics to touchscreen technology. The UK's National Physical Laboratory, along with a team of international scientists, have further developed our understanding of graphene by showing that when this remarkable material is combined with particular polymers, its electrical properties can be precisely controlled by light and exploited in a new generation of optoelectronic devices. The polymers keep memory of light and therefore the graphene device retains its modified properties until the memory is erased by heating.

Light-modified graphene chips have already been used at NPL in ultra-precision experiments to measure the quantum of the electrical resistance.

In the future, similar polymers could be used to effectively 'translate' information from their surroundings and influence how graphene behaves. This effect could be exploited to develop robust reliable sensors for smoke, poisonous gases, or any targeted molecule.

Graphene is an extraordinary two-dimensional material made of a single atomic layer of carbon atoms. It is the thinnest material known to man, and yet is one of the strongest ever tested.

Graphene does not have volume, only surface – its entire structure is exposed to its environment, and responds to any molecule that touches it. This makes it in principle a very exciting material for super-sensors capable of detecting single molecules of toxic gases. Polymers can make graphene respond to specific molecules and ignore all others at the same time, which also protects it from contamination.

The research team included scientists from the National Physical Laboratory (UK), Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), University of California Berkeley (USA), Linköping University (Sweden) and Lancaster University (UK).

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about National Physical Laboratory
  • News

    New test detects drug use from a single fingerprint

    Led by the University of Surrey, a team of researchers from the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NL), the National Physical Laboratory (UK), King’s College London (UK) and Sheffield Hallam University (UK), used different types of an analytical chemistry technique known as mass spectrometry t ... more

    On the edge of graphene

    Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have discovered that the conductivity at the edges of graphene devices is different to that of the central material. Local scanning electrical techniques were used to examine the local nanoscale electronic properties of epitaxial graphen ... more

    Quantum model helps solve mysteries of water

    A research team from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the University of Edinburgh and IBM's TJ Watson Research Center has revealed a major breakthrough in the modelling of water that could shed light on its mysterious properties. Water is one of the most common and extensively studie ... more

  • Videos

    The Watt balance and redefining the kilogram

    Video by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) with Dr Bryan Kibble, Dr Tony Hartland and Dr Ian Robinson more