In a report published in Nature Physics, a group led Dr Leonid Ponomarenko and Nobel prize-winner Professor Andre Geim has assembled individual atomic layers on top of each other in a desired sequence.
The team used individual one-atom-thick crystals to construct a multilayer cake that works as a nanoscale electric transformer.
Graphene, isolated for the first time at The University of Manchester in 2004, has the potential to revolutionise diverse applications from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to drug delivery and computer chips.
It has the potential to replace existing materials, such as silicon, but the Manchester researchers believe it could truly find its place with new devices and materials yet to be invented.
In the nanoscale transformer, electrons moving in one metallic layer pull electrons in the second metallic layer by using their local electric fields. To operate on this principle, the metallic layers need to be insulated electrically from each other but separated by no more than a few interatomic distances, a giant leap from the existing nanotechnologies.
These new structures could pave the way for a new range of complex and detailed electronic and photonic devices which no other existing material could make, which include various novel architectures for transistors and detectors.
The scientists used graphene as a one-atom-thick conductive plane while just four atomic layers of boron nitride served as an electrical insulator.
The researchers started with extracting individual atomic planes from bulk graphite and boron nitride by using the same technique that led to the Nobel Prize for graphene, a single atomic layer of carbon. Then, they used advanced nanotechnology to mechanically assemble the crystallites one by one, in a Lego style, into a crystal with the desired sequence of planes.
The nano-transformer was assembled by Dr Roman Gorbachev, of The University of Manchester, who described the required skills. He said: "Every Russian and many in the West know The Tale of the Clockwork Steel Flea.
"It could only be seen through the most powerful microscope but still danced and even had tiny horseshoes. Our atomic-scale Lego perhaps is the next step of craftsmanship".
Professor Geim added: "The work proves that complex devices with various functionalities can be constructed plane by plane with atomic precision.
"There is a whole library of atomically-thin materials. By combining them, it is possible to create principally new materials that don't exist in nature. This avenue promises to become even more exciting than graphene itself."
University of Manchester: http://www.manchester.ac.uk
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Institute for Highway Safety is known for crash-test safety ratings, but as cars get smarter there's a need to look beyond crashworthiness
Researchers have long struggled to resolve what happens to information when it falls inside a black hole, but the famous physicist says he has a solution
Researchers have been using muons to take a peek inside the nuclear reactors in Japan that melted down in 2011. The results could aid the continuing cleanup operations.
Neutrinos, created by violent phenomena such as black holes and exploding stars, could hold the key to the universe’s most distant and mysterious events
Better MRI scanners could result from a trick in which a magnetic field springs up from nowhere, using materials famous for their link to invisibility cloaks
Water locked away in rocks for 1.5 billion years reveals conditions were right for complex organic molecules to form in deep sea hydrothermal vents
Helium, used in nuclear, medical and, yes, party industries, has become scarce, but new research has revealed a possible way to pinpoint fresh sources
New lab results show how collisions between comets and planets can make the molecules that are the essential building blocks of life.
A startup company says it is expanding the language of DNA to create new tools for drug discovery.
If scientists can convince people to use the app, they hope it will help them solve a cosmic mystery. This story originally aired on March 27, 2015 on All Things Considered.