The discovery of graphene, a material just one atom thick and possessing exceptional strength and other novel properties, started an avalanche of research around its use for everything from electronics to optics to structural materials.
- MIT researchers produce complex electronic circuits from molybdenum disulfide, a material that could have many more applications.
But new research suggests that was just the beginning: A whole family of two-dimensional materials may open up even broader possibilities for applications that could change many aspects of modern life.
The latest “new” material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) — which has actually been used for decades, but not in its 2-D form — was first described just a year ago by researchers in Switzerland. But in that year, researchers at MIT — who struggled for several years to build electronic circuits out of graphene with very limited results (except for radio-frequency applications) — have already succeeded in making a variety of electronic components from MoS2. They say the material could help usher in radically new products, from whole walls that glow to clothing with embedded electronics to glasses with built-in display screens.
Like graphene, itself a 2-D form of graphite, molybdenum disulfide has been used for many years as an industrial lubricant. But it had never been seen as a 2-D platform for electronic devices until last year, when scientists at the Swiss university EPFL produced a transistor on the material.
Because it already is widely produced as a lubricant, and thanks to ongoing work at MIT and other labs on making it into large sheets, scaling up production of the material for practical uses should be much easier than with other new materials, Wang and Palacios say.
In the future, it could also enable entirely new kinds of devices. The material could be used, in combination with other 2-D materials, to make light-emitting devices. Instead of producing a point source of light from one bulb, an entire wall could be made to glow, producing softer, less glaring light. Similarly, the antenna and other circuitry of a cellphone might be woven into fabric, providing a much more sensitive antenna that needs less power and could be incorporated into clothing, Palacios says.
The material is so thin that it’s completely transparent, and it can be deposited on virtually any other material. For example, MoS2 could be applied to glass, producing displays built into a pair of eyeglasses or the window of a house or office.