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New materials provide link to innovative products

Alan Flurry

When we think about the links to the future – the global transition to solar and wind energy, tactile virtual reality or synthetic neurons – there’s no shortage of big ideas. It’s the materials to execute the big ideas – the ability to manufacture the lithium-ion batteries, opto-electronics and hydrogen fuel cells – that stand between concept and reality.

Enter two-dimensional materials, the latest step in innovation. Consisting of a single layer of atoms, two-dimensional materials like graphene and phosphorene exhibit new properties with far-reaching potential. With a capability to be combined like Lego bricks, these materials offer connections to future products, including new means to convey both power and people, with more-efficient energy transmission, and solar- and wind-powered vehicles on roads and in skies.

A study led by University of Georgia researchers announces the successful use of a new nanoimaging technique that will allow researchers to test and identify these materials in a comprehensive way at the nanoscale for the first time. Now, there’s a way to experiment with new materials for our big ideas at a really, really small scale.

“Fundamental science – small-scale electrical conductivity, light emission, structural changes – happen at the nanoscale,” said Yohannes Abate, Susan Dasher and Charles Dasher MD Professor of Physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and lead author on the new paper. “This new tool allows us to visualize all of this combined at unprecedented specificity and resolution.”

“Since we cannot see atoms with traditional methods, we needed to invent new tools to visualize them,” he said. The hyperspectral imaging technique allows scientists to inspect electrical properties, optical properties, and the mechanical properties at the fundamental length scale, simultaneously.


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