Exploring the electrical and physical properties of 2D atomically layered materials with advanced scanning probe microscopy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Engineering and Physical Sciences


This project is in collaboration with Bruker

The aim of this project is to understand how scanning probe microscopy (SPM - also commonly called atomic force microscopy AFM) can contribute to exploring 2D / thin film materials and devices. 2D materials cover a wide range of atomically layered systems from graphene to thin films created using a range of techniques including exfoilation, chemical and physical vapour deposition. The project will primarily focus on the physical and electrical properties of 2D / thin film materials using novel imaging modes. It is frequently the case that advances in instrumentation and techniques lead to new discoveries and a greater level of understanding of the physical world in which we live. Of particular interest for this project are the new SPM modes and techniques that have recently been proposed but, as yet, are not fully explored. An example of these newer modes includes peak force tunneling atomic force microscopy (PF-TUNA) which provides nanoelectrical characterisation with the very highest spatial resolution. Comparing the electrical characteristics measured locally and non-locally on nanofabricated devices will allow the effects of the spatial distribution of physical and electronic properties to be explored in detail. In 2D / thin film materials these effects can control the macroscopic behaviour, for example, in devices that rely on tunneling even the absence of a few atoms in a barrier layer can have a significant effect allowing current to travel directly between layers rather than tunnel through the barrier.

In addition, the project will explore the effects of local changes in environment, for example magnetic field or temperature, where in magnetically ordered materials large changes can be induced (e.g. through meta-magnetic phase transitions) potentially leading the way to new, multifunctional spintronic devices.

Planned Impact

The proposed CDT is expected to have a high impact on the supply of the next generation of academic and industrial leaders, knowledge transfer and academic research.

The most important impact is providing highly educated, skilled specialists capable of carrying on research which crosses traditional boundaries between disciplines. The Science and Applications of Graphene and Related Nanomaterials is now widely acknowledged as an area of great potential for economic growth in the UK, Europe and beyond. The need to develop graphene-based technology has been recognized by recent large-scale investments from UK and European governments, including £61M for the creation of National Graphene Institute (NGI) at Manchester and £21M EPSRC investment in graphene engineering across the UK. Numerous companies (IBM, Intel, Samsung, LG, BASF, Lockeed Martin, Oxford Instruments, VARTA, FIAT, etc.) specialising in electronics, energy storage, sensors, displays, packaging and separation techniques have joined the race and are investing heavily in development of graphene-based technologies. The latest development is the award of the EC-FET Graphene Flagship funding by the European Commission. The success of this strategic EU initiative (Euro1 billion over the next 10 years), aiming to support the UK and European industries, will depend on the availability of specialists with intimate knowledge of various aspects of graphene-based systems, first-hand experience in research on graphene and 2D materials, and related nanotechnologies. GrapheneNOWNANO will train such specialists.

The proposed CDT brings together the experience and skills of UoM and LU staff from across engineering and physical sciences (physics, chemistry, materials, chemical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering and computer science) and medical and life sciences and will benefit postgraduate researchers in all these disciplines. It will further enhance and support the successful research base at UoM and LU and facilitate further developments in the science and applications of 2D materials. We will disseminate new knowledge and best practice in training via annual Summer Conferences and at least one international Summer School encompassing research in graphene and related nanomaterials, which will be open to young researchers in the UK and Europe.

GrapheneNOWNANO will engage directly with UK, European and international companies from a broad line-up of industries interested in developing graphene applications: 15 companies have already made firm commitments to work with the new CDT, including funding students, working on joint projects, hosting secondments and training within industrial environment, participating in commercialization training. Through these interactions, the proposed CDT will play an important part in maximizing the impact of 2D materials research in the North West of England and the wider world, accelerating innovation and transforming the blue-sky studies of these new materials into innovation.

The CDT will work on raising the awareness of the general public about the academic and industrial developments and the importance of research for the society and the economy. We will do this through participating in a variety of dissemination and outreach events (eg Big Bang fair, RS Summer Exhibition, Science Festivals, Science and Engineering weeks, visits to local schools), thus enhancing the grasp of science by the wider public, but in particular encouraging young people to pursue a science/engineering based career.


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