X-rays reveal molecular arrangements for better printable electronics

April 25, 2012, University of California - Santa Barbara
This is an image of a printed electronics system. Credit: Peter Allen

By employing powerful X-rays that can see down to the molecular level of organic materials used in printable electronics, researchers are now able to determine why some materials perform better than others. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Materials, could lead to cheaper, more efficient printable electronic devices.

"This work is exciting because it helps reveal in new detail how we can achieve high performance transistors and with polymers," said UC Santa Barbara professor of materials Michael Chabinyc, who, with UCSB chemistry graduate student Justin Cochran and North Carolina State Harald Ade and Brian Collins, set out to find out which materials and which processing steps worked better, in what is still a largely trial-and-error process for manufacturers of printable electronics. This effort also involved collaboration with an international team, including researchers from Monash University in Australia and Univeristät Erlangen-Nümberg in Germany.

Printed electronics is a process that employs fairly common printing methods to deposit inks containing organic conductive molecules onto surfaces, to creating circuitry for a variety of , including photovoltaics, displays, and even luminescent clothing. The process is faster and cheaper than conventional production techniques for the same products, and could pave the way toward making these devices more accessible to consumers.

However, until recently, the process of selecting these organic materials –– and what steps to take in order to improve their performance –– was something of a mystery. Some materials and treatments worked better than others, and the researchers set out to find out why.

The researchers developed a technique that used powerful to peer into these organic materials at the molecular level. They found that the performance of the material had to do with its molecular alignment, and that this alignment was controlled by simple methods such as heating and molecular interactions at surface levels.

"In transistors, we found that as the alignment between molecules increased, so did the performance," Collins said. "In the case of the solar cells, we discovered alignment of molecules at interfaces in the device, which may be the key to more efficient harvesting of light. For both, this was the first time anyone had been able to really look at what was happening at the molecular level."

The researchers hope that the new X-ray technique will provide a better perspective into the nature of organic materials used in printed electronics.

"We're hoping that this technique will give researchers and manufacturers greater insight into the fundamentals of these materials," Collins said. "Understanding how these materials work can only lead to improved performance and better commercial viability."

Explore further: Polarized X-ray scattering technique reveals structure of printable electronics

Related Stories

Flexible electronics hold promise for consumer applications

August 29, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research from Wake Forest University has advanced the field of plastic-based flexible electronics by developing, for the first time, an extremely large molecule that is stable, possesses excellent electrical ...

A new structural view of organic electronic devices

September 12, 2005

Although still in the qualifying rounds, U.S. researchers are helping manufacturers win the race to develop low-cost ways to commercialize a multitude of products based on inexpensive organic electronic materials -- from ...

Organic 2-D films could lead to better solar cells

April 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Solar cells made from organic materials are inexpensive, lightweight and flexible, but their performance lags behind cells that contain silicon or other inorganic materials. Cornell chemist William Dichtel ...

New molecular framework could lead to flexible solar cells

June 29, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Making better solar cells: Cornell University researchers have discovered a simple process - employing molecules typically used in blue jean and ink dyes - for building an organic framework that could lead ...

Recommended for you

X-rays reveal chirality in swirling electric vortices

January 16, 2018

Scientists used spiraling X-rays at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to observe, for the first time, a property that gives handedness to swirling electric patterns – dubbed ...

Slow 'hot electrons' could improve solar cell efficiency

January 16, 2018

Photons with energy higher than the band gap of the semiconductor absorbing them give rise to what are known as hot electrons. The extra energy in respect to the band gap is lost very fast, as it is converted into heat and ...

Quan­tum physics turned into tan­gi­ble re­al­ity

January 16, 2018

ETH physicists have developed a silicon wafer that behaves like a topological insulator when stimulated using ultrasound. They have thereby succeeded in turning an abstract theoretical concept into a macroscopic product.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.