New electrically conductive material made like a plastic

Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered a new type of material that can conduct electricity

Scientists at the University of Chicago have discovered a way to create a material that can be made like a plastic, but conducts electricity more like a metal.

The research, published in the journal Nature, shows how to make a type of material in which the molecular fragments are mixed up and out of order, but which can still conduct electricity extremely well. As the researchers explain, this goes against all known rules about conductivity and could be extraordinarily useful.

“In principle, this opens up the design of a whole new class of materials that conduct electricity, are easy to mold, and are very robust under everyday conditions,” explains John Anderson, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study. “Essentially, it suggests new possibilities for a group of materials of great technological importance,” adds Jiaze Xie, first author of the work.

Xie began experimenting with some materials discovered years ago but largely ignored. He placed nickel atoms like beads on a chain of molecular beads made of carbon and sulfur, and began testing. To the amazement of scientists, the material conducted electricity easily and strongly. Also, it was very stable. “We heated it, cooled it, exposed it to air and moisture, and even dripped acid and base on it, and nothing happened, Xie recalls. This is hugely useful for a device that has to work in the real world.”

Innovative electrically conductive material

Xie, Anderson and their lab believe the material forms layers, like lasagna noodles. Although the sheets rotate laterally, the electrons can continue to move horizontally or vertically, as long as the pieces touch. The end result is unprecedented in a conductive material. “It’s almost like conductive putty: you can squish it into place and it conducts electricity,” says Anderson. Scientists are excited because the discovery suggests a fundamentally new design principle for electronic technology.

One of the most attractive features of the material is the new processing options. For example, metals often have to be melted down to form a chip or device into the proper shape, which limits what can be done with them, as other device components have to be able to withstand the heat required to process these materials.

The new material does not have that restriction because it can be manufactured at room temperature. In addition, it can be used where the need for a device or device parts to withstand heat, acid/alkalinity, or moisture has previously limited engineers’ options for developing new technology.

The team is also exploring the different forms and functions the material could have. “We think we can make it two-dimensional or three-dimensional, make it porous, or even introduce other functions by adding different linkers or nodes,” Xie concludes.

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Source: dpa

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