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Copper nanowires grown by new process create long-lasting displays

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By James E. Kloeppel, U of I News Bureau
May 7, 2008

  • Researchers Kyekyoon "Kevin" Kim and Hyungsoo Choi have developed a new low-temperature technique for growing copper nanowires.
  • he copper nanowires could serve as interconnects in electronic device fabrication and as electron emitters in a television-like, very thin flat-panel display known as a field-emission display.
  • Their research is documented in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Advanced Materials.
ECE researchers Kyekyoon (Kevin) Kim and Hyungsoo Choi have developed a new low-temperature, catalyst-free technique for growing copper nanowires.
ECE researchers Kyekyoon (Kevin) Kim and Hyungsoo Choi have developed a new low-temperature, catalyst-free technique for growing copper nanowires.

A new low-temperature, catalyst-free technique for growing copper nanowires has been developed by ECE researchers at the University of Illinois. The copper nanowires could serve as interconnects in electronic device fabrication and as electron emitters in a television-like, very thin flat-panel display known as a field-emission display.

"We can grow forests of freestanding copper nanowires of controlled diameter and length, suitable for integration into electronic devices," said ECE Professor Kyekyoon Kim.

"The copper nanowires are grown on a variety of surfaces, including glass, metal and plastic by chemical vapor deposition from a precursor," said Hyungsoo Choi, an ECE researcher who is also affiliated with the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. "The patented growth process is compatible with contemporary silicon-processing protocols."

The researchers describe the nanowires, the growth process, and a proof-of-principle field-emission display in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Advanced Materials, and posted on its Web site.

Typically, the nanowires of 70 to 250 nanometers in diameter are grown on a silicon substrate at temperatures of 200 to 300 degrees Celsius and require no seed or catalyst. The size of the nanowires is controlled by the processing conditions, such as substrate, substrate temperature, deposition time and precursor feeding rate. The columnar, five-sided nanowires terminate in sharp, pentagonal tips that facilitate electron emission.

To demonstrate the practicability of the low-temperature growth process, the researchers first grew an array of copper nanowires on a patterned silicon substrate. Then they fashioned a field-emission display based on the array’s bundles of nanowires.

A scanning electron microscope image of copper nanowires grown on a silicon substrate at 250 degrees Celsius at high magnification.
A scanning electron microscope image of copper nanowires grown on a silicon substrate at 250 degrees Celsius at high magnification.

In a field-emission display, electrons emitted from the nanowire tips strike a phosphor coating to produce an image. Because the researchers used a bundle of nanowires for each pixel in their display, the failure of a few nanowires will not ruin the device.

"The emission characteristics of the copper nanowires in our proof-of-principle field-emission display were very good," said Kim, who also is affiliated with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering, Beckman Institute, Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, and the Institute for Genomic Biology. "Our experimental results suggest bundled nanowires could lead to longer lasting field-emission displays."

In addition to working on flexible displays made from copper nanowires grown on bendable plastic, the researchers are also working on silver nanowires.

With Kim and Choi, co-authors of the paper are graduate student and lead author Chang Wook Kim, graduate student Wenhua Gu, postdoctoral research associate Martha Briceno, and professor and head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering Ian Robertson.

Funding was provided by the University of Illinois. Characterization of the samples was conducted at the University’s Center for Microanalysis of Materials, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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