Move over graphene! Gallenene is the latest 2D material on the block

Graphene is a form of carbon made up of 2D planar sheets one atom thick, in which the atoms are arranged in a honeycomb-shaped lattice. It’s one of the most remarkable and unique materials in the world, capable of doing everything from detecting cancer cells and creating incredibly strong body armor to acting as a kick-ass superconductor.

But while graphene is the star quarterback of the 2D material lineup, it’s not the only player in the game. In recent years, researchers have been able to develop 2D versions of a number of other materials, including borophene, germanene, silicene, stanene, phosphorene, bismuthene, and others. Now researchers from Rice University and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore have added one other atomically flat material to the list: a 2D form of the soft metal gallium, which they call “gallenene.”

While it’s not yet clear whether it will perform feats as remarkable as graphene, the researchers who developed it think that gallenene could have useful applications within nanoscale electronics.

The team who isolated the 2D gallenene had a challenging time doing so. Unlike graphene, which can be extracted from chunks of graphite using adhesive tape, gallium layers are too strong for this kind of simple approach. Instead, the researchers heated the gallium to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, only slightly below its melting point. This allowed them to drip the material onto a glass slide. After it had cooled, they then pressed a flat piece of silicon dioxide on top of the gallium, after which they could remove a flat layer of gallenene.

They additionally found that gallenene binds very easily to other substrates, forming gallium nitride, gallium arsenide, silicone, and nickel. These various combinations all possess different electronic properties — hinting at plenty of further research and finely tuned applications down the road.

“The current work utilizes the weak interfaces of solids and liquids to separate thin 2-D sheets of gallium,” said Chandra Sekhar Tiwary, principal investigator on the project, in a statement. “The same method can be explored for other metals and compounds with low melting points.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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