Life in the Machine

June 16, 2010

Brit Trogen

science in seconds blog brit trogen


When you think of electronics, the last thing that usually comes to mind is “living.” But organic materials have long been considered to have enormous potential in nanoelectronics for their unique properties (think solar panels, pigment cells) and capacity for manipulation.

But unlike inorganic materials like silicon, which naturally assemble into neatly ordered structures that can conduct current, organic materials have always been a bit messier. Okay… a lot messier. If you’ve ever looked at an aromatic ring, you can imagine how difficult it would be to align thousands of them into tight and tidy rows, and this problem has been one of the biggest setbacks in the field of polymer electronics.
But new research led by Federico Rosei of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique and Dmitrii Perepichka of McGill offers a deceptively simple solution to this problem, which was published in this week's PNAS. A new technique has allowed the international team of researchers to successfully order arrays of PEDOT chains (highly conducting polymers often used for LCDs and solar cells) by confining their growth to the surface of a copper lattice.

In other words, the copper acts as a catalyst to direct the polymerization—the ordering and lining up—of the organic molecules. In some ways, this mirrors the techniques used by researchers in regenerative medicine. Using a scaffold to direct the growth of stem cells has been used to generate organs as complex as kidneys and hearts in the lab.

But what could this mean for nanoelectronics? Well, we’ve already seen this new branch of science begin to take root. Where would the Kindle be without electronic paper? Smart windows and flexible displays are some other practical applications. But when the basic science takes a major step forward like this, we can look forward to much, much more. 

Lipton-Duffin, J., Miwa, J., Kondratenko, M., Cicoira, F., Sumpter, B., Meunier, V., Perepichka, D., & Rosei, F. (2010). Step-by-step growth of epitaxially aligned polythiophene by surface-confined reaction Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1000726107



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