Before leaving the house, one item I always carry with me is my smartphone. Oftentimes, it is shielded with a case and a screen protector to prevent external damage. For most smartphone users, the idea of dropping their devices and watching it shatter into fragments is almost unbearable. Smartphones are primarily comprised of the element silicon, an expensive yet fragile material. As the demand for smartphones increase—a massive 1.5 billion devices were purchased solely in 2016—manufacturers are targeting cheaper and more durable materials to replace silicon.
An international team of researchers have developed a new hybrid compound consisting of layered hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), graphene, and C60. Hexagonal boron nitride is a wide bandgap—energy difference between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band—semiconductor with very high thermal and chemical stability. Graphene is a super-strong, ultra-lightweight, and highly conductive two-dimensional layer of pure carbon. C60 is a conductive spherical fullerene molecule resembling the shape of a soccer ball.
The hybrid technology makes an ideal candidate for smartphones due to the complementary properties of its materials. In a process called van der Waals solids, combinations of varied materials form unique features which do not naturally exist. The conductive abilities of graphene and C60 allow electricity to quickly move across the screen. The hBN offers stability, electronic compatibility, and isolation charge to graphene. Additionally, graphene is extremely durable, and C60 can transform sunlight into electricity.
Elton Santos of Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics states that the hybrid compound and silicon have similar properties, “but [the compound] has improved chemical stability, lightness, and flexibility.”
Applications of this new material could expand beyond smartphones to energy-generating glass and damage-resistant windows. Currently, the researchers are investigating potential solutions to the lack of band gap in the new material. They hope their findings will instigate future advancements and explorations in material technologies.
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Editor: Olivia Vo