Graphene nanoribbons have been synthesised as part of a £5.3m project to design and develop the world’s most efficient thermoelectric material.

Graphene, a single-layer network of carbon atoms, has outstanding electrical and mechanical properties.

The six year QuEEN (Quantum Effects in Electronic Nanodevices) project is funded by the EPSRC with teams from the Physics Department at Lancaster University and the Departments of Materials and Chemistry at the University of Oxford.

The molecular graphene nanoribbons were synthesised in the Max-Planck Institute, Mainz, based on the theory provided by the Lancaster team led by Professor Colin Lambert, with the measurements provided by Oxford.

Their latest paper appears in Nature.

Professor Lambert, the Founding Director of the Lancaster Quantum Technology Centre, said: “Our efforts will concentrate on the underpinning science of stable and reproducible devices, consisting of single molecules connected to graphene electrodes, with the potential for scalable production.”

The QuEEN research combines chemical synthesis, nanofabrication, measurement, and theory, and strongly relies on the interactions between these different areas of expertise.

The core aim is to investigate quantum effects in molecules in devices, with a view to discovering fundamental science and harnessing the properties for practical technologies.

The combined electricity consumption of IT systems (communication networks, personal computers, data centres, etc.) was 900 TWh in 2012, or 4.6% of global electricity use, and this figure is set to double by 2025. At present, much of this energy input is lost as waste heat.

The QuEEN project aims to address this global challenge by harnessing quantum interference in molecules to create new materials, which can convert waste heat directly into electricity.

Professor Lambert said: “Our latest results provide a revolutionary approach to the problem of spins in confined electronic nanostructures, and offer a long-awaited experimental testbed for the theory of magnetism in graphene nanoribbons. The observed long coherence times open encouraging perspectives for the use of magnetic nanoribbons in quantum spintronic devices and reveal a new powerful building block for solid-state quantum computing.“


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