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Graphene Breakthrough Could Be a Boon to Flexible Electronics

There are scores of medical potential applications for flexible electronics: body-worn monitors that monitor vital signs to bendable implantable cardiac sensors. Flexible electronics pioneer MC10 (Cambridge, MA) makes use of silicon that is thin enough to maintain some flexibility.

Future advances in the field of flexible electronics could come from graphene, which is bendable and has been used instead of silicon to break electronic speed records.

Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have announced a breakthrough that could lead to sizable gains in the material's electronic transport properties as well as broaden the number of applications of flexible electronics, according to Sanjay Banerjee of Cockrell School's South West Academy of Nanoelectronics (SWAN). The breakthrough was made possible by varying the amount of surface oxygen exposed to graphene, which enabled the production of large single-crystal graphene with minimal defects.

The crystals developed at UT Austin were roughly 10,000 fold bigger than the biggest graphene developed four years ago. Measuring as large as one centimeter across, the large crystals have unique properties, which would enable its application for electronics and for structural uses. Earlier this year, researchers at the university created graphene-based chips that were clocked at 25-gigahertz.

Earlier this year, the Semiconductor Research Corporation and NIST gave UT AUstin a $7.8-million grant to support its nanoelectronics research, a substantial amount of which is related to graphene.

Graphene is a extraordinarily popular research subject. Earlier in the year, a separate group of researchers were able to stitch together graphene sheets from smaller fragments of the material, retaining much of the material's strength. Another recent application was the research announcement that graphene-based flexible electronics could be inexpensively affixed to 3-D surfaces.

The video below from MC10 shows a potential use case of flexible electronics: a patch that could be affixed within the heart to monitor cardiac function.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz and Google+.

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