Thin, light and flexible electronics after graphene breakthrough

Electronics such as mobile phones, tablets and displays could soon be constructed from semi-transparent, flexible materials after a breakthrough in graphene at two UK universities. According to research published in scientific journal Nature Materials, University of Manchester and University of Sheffield researchers have developed 2D "designer materials" that can be used for flexible, see-through and more efficient light-emitting electronic devices.

The team, led by Nobel Laureate Sir Kostya Novoselov, made the breakthrough by creating LEDs which were engineered on an atomic level.

Researchers combined different 2D crystals to construct the LED device that emits light from across its whole surface.

It is only 10-40 atoms thick so the new components can form the basis for the first generation of semi-transparent smart devices.

Freddie Withers, Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow at The University of Manchester, who led the production of the devices, said: “As our new type of LEDs only consist of a few atomic layers of 2D materials they are flexible and transparent. We envisage a new generation of optoelectronic devices to stem from this work, from simple transparent lighting and lasers and to more complex applications.”

Sir Novoselov added: “By preparing the heterostructures on elastic and transparent substrates, we show that they can provide the basis for flexible and semi-transparent electronics.

“The range of functionalities for the demonstrated heterostructures is expected to grow further on increasing the number of available 2D crystals and improving their electronic quality.”

Professor Alexander Tartakovskii, from The University of Sheffield said: "The novel LED structures are robust and show no significant change in performance over many weeks of measurements. “Despite the early days in the raw materials manufacture, the quantum efficiency (photons emitted per electron injected) is already comparable to organic LEDs.”