New "Molecular Wires" Nanotechnology to Replace Silicon

Aug 23, 2004

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and the University of Florida have uncovered information that may help "molecular wires" replace silicon in micro-electronic circuits and/or components in solar energy storage systems. The scientists were studying how electric charge is distributed in polymer molecule chains that are several nanometers, or billionths of a meter, in length.

Brookhaven chemist John Miller, the study's lead scientist, will present the group's results on Sunday, August 22, 2004, at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Convention Center, Ballroom B, 2:45 p.m.).

"Long molecules that can act as molecular wires, of which there are many variations, are one type of nanoscale object with the potential to lead to new technologies, due to their ability to conduct electricity and very small size," said Miller. "But unlike conventional metal wires, polymer nanowires need assistance in order to conduct."

"Using a cluster of high-energy electrons from an accelerator, we can quickly add an extra negative or positive charge to a polymer molecular wire. When the end of the wire contains a chemically-attached 'trap' molecule, one where the electrons will be at a lower, more stable energy, the charge moves to it. This allows us to 'see' that the wires conduct electrons quickly, and over long distances."

One potential application for this finding is in the solar energy industry, particularly in a new field called "plastic solar." In conventional solar cells, incoming solar energy is transferred to the electrons in a semiconducting material, such as silicon, which knocks many of them loose. These electrons are guided to an electrode, creating a current that can be drawn off and used.

The plastic solar movement aims to replace materials like silicon with polymer nanowires, which are cheaper and lighter. Another advantage of plastic solar cells is their physical versatility. Due to the flexible, bendable nature of polymer materials, plastic solar cells could be placed in areas of greatly varying size and surface type. Conventional cells are rigid and costly, and the current production method limits their size.

In plastic solar cells constructed to date, electrons must jump from one polymer wire to another in order to reach the electrodes. But as the electrons leave one wire in order to jump to the next, they encounter barriers, which require larger amounts of energy to traverse than the barriers that hinder electron movement within typical nanowires. This slows down the electrons.

Miller and his collaborators want to learn how to eliminate the barriers. But first, they must understand how the electrons move within single polymer wires -- the amount of energy the electrons need, for example. Later, this information can be used to choose the best polymer conductors and design structures for plastic solar cells.

The group observed electrons move down a polymer wire by immersing the wire in an organic fluid and shooting high-energy electrons through the fluid. The electrons were supplied by Brookhaven's Laser-Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF), which accelerates electrons to high energies for research applications. The energetic LEAF electrons either kick away some of the fluid molecules' electrons or allow the molecules to give up "holes" -- mobile, empty spaces that carry positive charge. As a result, the submerged nanowire receives one of these electrons or holes.

"This new method injects extra negative or positive charges into the wires and allows us to observe the charges quickly diffuse across it. This observation is a key step toward developing polymer nanowires that are good conductors," Miller said.

In the future, Miller and his group also plan to look for ways to increase the conduction efficiency of the wires.

Source: DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

Explore further: Relaxing DNA strands by using nano-channels

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Inexpensive flexible fiber perovskite solar cells

Aug 04, 2014

(Phys.org) —Textile solar cells are an ideal power source for small electronic devices incorporated into clothing. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists have now introduced novel solar cells ...

'Wetting' a battery's appetite for renewable energy storage

Aug 01, 2014

Sun, wind and other renewable energy sources could make up a larger portion of the electricity America consumes if better batteries could be built to store the intermittent energy for cloudy, windless days. Now a new material ...

A new approach to creating organic zeolites

Jul 24, 2014

Yushan Yan, Distinguished Professor of Engineering at the University of Delaware, is known worldwide for using nanomaterials to solve problems in energy engineering, environmental sustainability and electronics.

Scientists discover how plastic solar panels work

Jul 01, 2014

Scientists don't fully understand how 'plastic' solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency, thereby blocking the wider use of the technology. However, researchers at the ...

Recommended for you

Relaxing DNA strands by using nano-channels

11 hours ago

A simple and effective way of unravelling the often tangled mass of DNA is to 'thread' the strand into a nano-channel. A study carried out with the participation of the International School for Advanced Studies ...

Сalculations with nanoscale smart particles

Aug 19, 2014

Researchers from the Institute of General Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and MIPT have made an important step towards ...

Nanostructure enlightening dendrite-free metal anode

Aug 19, 2014

Graphite anodes have been widely used for lithium ion batteries (LIBs) during the past two decades. The replacement of metallic lithium with graphite enables safe and highly efficient operation of LIBs, however, ...

Bacterial nanowires: Not what we thought they were

Aug 18, 2014

For the past 10 years, scientists have been fascinated by a type of "electric bacteria" that shoots out long tendrils like electric wires, using them to power themselves and transfer electricity to a variety ...

User comments : 0