Designer Crystals Could Enable Faster, More Powerful Electronics

The CSIRO has recently developed a groundbreaking new method of growing designer crystals, which will allow these super-porous materials to be used for the first time in microelectronics. Researchers hope this technology could lead to the development of faster, more powerful electronic devices.

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These crystals are known as metal organic frameworks, otherwise known as MOFs, and are the most porous materials known to man. MOF crystals have an extremely large surface area, consisting of a bird cage like structure that can be up to 80 per cent empty inside.

“The net result is a structure where almost every atom is exposed to empty space: one gram of MOF crystals has a surface area of over 5000 square metres – that’s the size of a football field," explains CSIRO researcher Mark Styles. “Crucially, we can use this vast space to trap other molecules, which can change the properties of a material." If these unique properties were to be applied to the field of electronics, it means that they can fit more transistors on a microchip -- therefore making it even faster and more powerful.

MOF crystals are not a new technology, but the way the CSIRO -- in partnership with the University of Leuven in Belgium and the National University of Singapore -- has developed the technology has the potential to change the world of microelectronics. Before now, the crystals could only be grown and applied using a liquid solvent, meaning they were largely unsuitable for use in electronic devices. “Just like your smart phone doesn’t like being dropped in water, electronic devices don’t like the liquid solvent that’s used to grow MOF crystals,” Dr Styles said. “It can corrode and damage the delicate circuitry."

This tricky problem has been solved by a new method that uses vapour instead of liquid to grow the crystals, in a process that has been likened to "steam hovering over a pot of hot water." The team has made use of specialist X-ray analysis techniques to understand exactly how the vapour process works, and to develop it further for use in growing these crystals. CSIRO's Dr Styles has said that the applications for this new technology are only limited by your imagination. The full paper published in Nature can be found here.