Rice University scientists have modeled a nanoscale sandwich, the first in what they expect will become a molecular deli for substance scientists. Their recipe puts two slices of atom-thick graphene around nanoclusters of magnesium oxide that offer the super-strong, conductive substance expanded optoelectronic properties.
Rice materials researcher RouzbehShahsavari and his team members developed computer simulations of the compound and found it would offer features ideal for sensitive molecular sensing, catalysis and bio-imaging. Their work could help scientists design a range of customizable hybrids of two and three dimensional structures with encapsulated molecules, Shahsavari said.
The researchers were inspired by studies elsewhere in which numerous molecules were encapsulated using van der Waals forces to draw components together. The Rice-led study was the first to take a theoretical approach to defining the optical and electronic properties of one of those ‘made’ samples, 2-dimensional magnesium oxide in bilayer graphene, says Shahsavari.
“We knew if there was a study already performed, we would have a great reference point that would make it simpler to verify our computations, thus enabling more reliable expansion of our computational results to identify performance trends beyond the reach of the studies,” says Shahsavari.
Graphene on its own possesses no band gap, the characteristic that makes a substance a semiconductor. But the hybrid does, and this band gap could be tunable, depending on the components, Shahsavari says. The enhanced optical properties are also tunable and useful, he confirms. “We saw that while this single flake of magnesium oxide absorbed one sort of light emission, when it was trapped between two layers of graphene, it absorbed a wide spectrum. That could be a vital mechanism for sensors,” he says.
Shahsavari says his group’s theory should be applicable to other 2-dimensional substances, like heaxagonal boron nitride, and molecular fillings. “There is no single substance that can solve all the technical issues of the world,” he says.
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