Optoelectronics Appear as Promising Application for Graphene

Seeing near daily reports on the latest research on graphene, some observers are becoming weary and asking when the wonder material will find its way into commercial products.

Much graphene research has been dedicated to overcoming its liabilities—namely, its lack of a band gap—but we are now beginning to see some research emerging that plays to its strength in potential applications and more or less avoids its weaknesses, such as in recent work applying it to membranes for natural gas and water purification.

Another application area in which graphene has demonstrated some real promise is in optoelectronics, such as with its ability to function as a “mode-locked” laser despite lacking a band gap.

Now the scientists who won the Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering graphene have just published a paper in the journal Nature Communications, in which they demonstrate that combining graphene with plasmonic nanostructures can increase the previous efficiency of graphene-based photodectors by 20 times.

What this would translate into in terms of today’s optoelectronic data transfer rates is a boost of anywhere from 10 up to 100 times the speed of today’s systems. The key to the improved efficiency seems to be “efficient field concentration in the area of a p–n junction,” according to the abstract of the paper.

Those who are losing patience with graphene always being talked about but never seen used will need to hang on a bit longer, however. While application possibilities that draw on the materials’ strength are beginning to be investigated, it’s still a long and arduous road to a commercial product that could take years and may have little to do with science and technology.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
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