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University of Washington - Organic ferroelectric molecule shows promise for memory chips as sensors

As stated in the news article entitled "IBM nano-technique - Scientists peer within Carbon nanotubes to see atomic structure in 3-D" - the heart of future computing will be the ease of transferring stored digital information (as one and zeroes) within tiny crystals - ideally of a nano-scaling.  Unfortunately, nowadays these are hard and brittle materials, but increasingly in the future there is a role for cheap, flexible, non-toxic organic molecules.

Recently a team led by the University of Washington (UoW) in Seattle and the South-east University in China has claimed to have discovered a molecule, which shows promise as an organic alternative to the standard Si-based semiconductors.  Such findings were published in Science, whereby it is claimed the new molecule displays properties that make it well suited to a wide variety of applications, such as memory, sensing and low-cost energy storage.  As stated by Jiangyu Li, an UoW associate professor of mechanical engineering "This molecule is quite remarkable, with some of the key properties that are comparable with the most popular inorganic crystals."

The claims continue to state that the new carbon-based material could offer even cheaper ways to store digital information, provide a flexible, non-toxic interface for medical sensors that could be potentially implanted in the body and enable the creation of less costly, lighter material to harvest solar energy from natural vibrations.  The new molecule is a ferroelectric, which is positively charged on one side and negatively charged on the other where the direction can be "flipped" by applying an electrical field.  In addition, nowadays synthetic ferroelectrics are employed in some displays, sensors and memory chips.

DCN Corp® - Electrical responses of a newly developed organic ferroelectric crystal.  Credit - Dr Jiangyu Li, University of Washington (UoW), Seattle, USA

In this particular study the authors fought their molecule against barium titanate (BaTiO3).  BaTiO3 is a long-known ferroelectric material, which is a standard for performance related testing.  As can be cited by the BaTiO3 chemical composition - the substance contains titanium (Ti).  Industrially BaTiO3 has been replaced by better-performing lead (Pb) containing alternatives.  The newly discovered molecule can withstand its own against the standard-bearer, because it has a natural polarisation since measure of how strongly the molecules align to store information of 23 when compared to 26 for BaTiO3.  Li states to her knowledge the new organic ferroelectric is the best discovered to date.

In fact a recent study in Nature announced another organic ferroelectric which manages to effectively function at room temperature (RT).  However, Li's molecule can retain its properties up to 153 degrees Celsius (307 degrees F) - much higher than BaTiO3.  Additionally the new molecule carries its own di-electric constant - a measure of how well it can store energy - is more than 10 times higher than for other organic ferroelectrics.  It is also a good piezoelectric - meaning it is efficient at converting movement into electricity, which is extremely useful in sensors.

The organic crystal is made from Bromine (Br) mixed with Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H) and Nitrogen (N) - making its chemical name diispropylammonium bromide.  The researchers dissolved the elements in water and subsequently evaporated the liquid to synthetically grow the crystal.  Since the molecule in part contains C - making it organic and the pivoting chemical bonds allow it to be flexible.  Li continues to state the molecule would not necessarily replace current inorganic materials, nonetheless, it could be employed in applications where cost, ease of mass manufacturing, weight, flexibility and toxicity are seen as important.

In summary, Li is continuing to develop her fledgling research via a number of related R&D projects.  The synergy being between ferroelectricity and the new molecules combined electric and mechanical properties.  Last year he and his graduate student found the first evidence for ferroelectricity in soft animal tissue.  Li was a co-author in a Science 2011 paper, whereby the journal claimed to have created a nano-scale switch on ferroelectric films - demonstrating how such molecules could be used to store digital information.  Original article available here

Li's research is clearly highly innovative, but, as before, the company strongly believes it can provide a competitor dip coating concept.  For instance DCN Corp has managed to homogeneously fabricate metallic nanoparticles onto a stainless steel base substrate.  Typically such nanoparticles also carry their own di-electric moments - making them easily amenable for storing and thereafter transferring electricity, based on the incident laser inducement of the nanoparticle Surface Plasmon Resonances (SPR).  Moving forward - if you or your colleagues are interested in making the above a reality - please ensure to contact the company as soon as practicably possible.