Graphene ‘Phototransistor’ Promising for Optical Technologies


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Researchers have solved a problem hindering development of highly sensitive optical devices made of a material called graphene, an advance that could bring applications from imaging and displays to sensors and high-speed communications.

A graphene field-effect transistor, or GFET, developed at Purdue University could bring high-performance photodetectors for various potential applications. (Purdue University image/Erin Easterling)  

Graphene is an extremely thin layer of carbon that is promising for optoelectronics, and researchers are trying to develop graphene-based photodetectors, devices that are critical for many technologies. However, typical photodetectors made of graphene have only a small area that is sensitive to light, limiting their performance.

Now, researchers have solved the problem by combining graphene with a comparatively much larger silicon carbide substrate, creating graphene field-effect transistors, or GFETs, which can be activated by light, said Yong Chen, a Purdue University professor of physics and astronomy and electrical and computer engineering, and director of the Purdue Quantum Center.

High-performance photodetectors might be useful for applications including high-speed communications and ultra-sensitive cameras for astrophysics, as well as sensing applications and wearable electronics. Arrays of the graphene-based transistors might bring high-resolution imaging and displays.

 “In most cameras you need lots of pixels,” said Igor Jovanovic, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan. “However, our approach could make possible a very sensitive camera where you have relatively few pixels but still have high resolution.”

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Yong Chen, at left, a Purdue University professor of physics and astronomy and electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Ting-Fung Chung discuss their research to develop highly sensitive optical devices made of a material called graphene. The advance could help bring applications from imaging and displays to sensors and high-speed communications. (Purdue University image/Erin Easterling)

New findings are detailed in a research paper appearing this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The work was performed by researchers at Purdue, the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University.

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