Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons – a material made from one of the universe’s basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.
We’d been trying to separate layers of phosphorus crystals into two-dimensional sheets. Instead, our technique created tiny, tagliatelle-like ribbons one single atom thick and only 100 or so atoms across, but up to 100,000 atoms long. We spent three years honing the production process, before announcing our findings.
The two-dimensional ribbons have a number of remarkable properties. Their width to length ratio is similar to the cables that span the Golden Gate Bridge.
Their incredibly uniform but manipulable width allows their properties, such as whether and how they conduct electricity, to be fine-tuned. They are also incredibly flexible, which means that they can follow the contours of any surfaces they’re put on perfectly, and even be twisted.
Image Credit: Phosphorene nanoribbons. Oliver Payton/University of Bristol
Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen. Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen
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