Evolution of graphene nanoribbons under low-voltage electron irradiation

WP Zhu and HT Wang and W Yang, NANOSCALE, 4, 4555-4561 (2012).

DOI: 10.1039/c2nr30648d

Though the all-semiconducting nature of ultrathin graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) has been demonstrated in field-effect transistors operated at room temperature with similar to 10(5) on-off current ratios, the borderline for the potential of GNRs is still untouched. There remains a great challenge in fabricating even thinner GNRs with precise width, known edge configurations and specified crystallographic orientations. Unparalleled to other methods, low-voltage electron irradiation leads to a continuous reduction in width to a sub-nanometer range until the occurrence of structural instability. The underlying mechanisms have been investigated by the molecular dynamics method herein, combined with in situ aberration-corrected transmission electron microscopy and density functional theory calculations. The structural evolution reveals that the zigzag edges are dynamically more stable than the chiral ones. Preferential bond breaking induces atomic rings and dangling bonds as the initial defects. The defects grow, combine and reconstruct to complex edge structures. Dynamic recovery is enhanced by thermal activation, especially in cooperation with electron irradiation. Roughness develops under irradiation and reaches a plateau less than 1 nm for all edge configurations after longtime exposure. These features render low-voltage electron irradiation an attractive technique in the fabrication of ultrathin GNRs for exploring the ultimate electronic properties.

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