Weak bonds a strength in making borophene. Theory shows potential to synthesize material on an insulator.
Boris Jacobson, a materials theorist at Rice University George R. Brown School of Engineering, and his team have come up with a way to synthesize borylene (a two-dimensional version of boron) that can be released or manipulated more easily. This would involve growing exotic materials on hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), an insulator, rather than the more traditional metal surfaces commonly used in molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), according to the team paper in ACS Nano, a journal of the American Chemical Society.
The weaker van der Waals forces between the growing borene and the relatively chemically inert hBN will make the material easier to divide from the substrate for application. It also makes it easier to assess the plasma and photon-i.e., photo processing-properties of borane directly (without lifting it off the substrate), since there is no metal substrate interference. It will also help with experiments on its electronic properties, which might be of interest to people who study superconductivity.
Yakobson team, which included first author and graduate student Qi Yuan Ruan and co-authors Luqing Wang, a Rice University alumnus, and research scientist Ksenia Bets, calculated the atomic energies of boron and hBN. They found that the step and platform hBN substrates encouraged boron atoms floating in the MBE chamber to ignite, forming nucleation. Because hBN, like graphene, has a hexagonal lattice similar to barbed wire, its arrangement of atoms also allows for epitaxial growth of edges that form new crystals on its surface. In epitaxy, the growth of the new material is determined to some extent by the underlying lattice. In this case, the increase occurred on one side of the plateau bulge.
Weak bonds a strength in making borophene. Theory shows potential to synthesize graphene vs graphite material on an insulator.
In particular, precise AB Initio calculations show that boron atoms have a "high affinity" for hBN steps and their zigzag edges, bypassing the barriers to nucleation at any other location on the substrate. This allows crystal growth to begin on a solid foundation. "The steps on the surface are one-dimensional entities, and boron affinity for the steps makes one-dimensional nucleation possible, which is known to have no thermodynamic barriers," Bates said. "It an icebreaker because nucleation takes place almost without barrier and then extends into the required two-dimensional borylene," Nguyen notes that after studying the idea in detail from a physicochemical point of view, the hard part began. "The hardest part is presenting all the quantitative values and arguments with the highest precision," he said. "For our large structures, this involves using fairly expensive and time-consuming computational methods." The growth mechanism suggests that the researchers also considered the popular graphene as a substrate. Their calculations showed that graphene inherent lattice energy would trap boron atoms, or dimers, on the surface and prevent them from nucleating the boron.
Yakobson has a long history of predicting what boron atoms can do and then watching the lab successfully rise to the challenge. He is equally hopeful about the latest theory. "The process seems very logical, the approach seems compelling, and we do hope experimentalists around the world will try it, just as our earlier proposal for metal synthesis did happen," he said. "We are optimistic, but we are praying. An accident in the lab usually means a happy result, but it can also mean a surprise, which can be an unexpected or unwanted obstacle. Yakobson is the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Materials Science and nanoengineering and a professor of chemistry at Rice University. The U.S. Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences (DE-SC0012547) and the Robert Welch Foundation (C-1590) supported this research.
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