Engineers are now using self-assembling DNA nanobricks as a scaffold to build nanostructures out of graphene.
The MIT and Harvard researchers are essentially taking these shapes and binding them to a graphene surface with a molecule called aminopyrine.
Once bound, the DNA is coated with a layer of silver, and then a layer of gold to stabilize it. The gold-covered DNA is then used as a mask for plasma lithography, where oxygen plasma burns away the graphene that isn’t covered. Finally, the DNA mask is washed away with sodium cyanide, leaving a piece of graphene that is an almost-perfect copy of the DNA template.
So far, the researchers have used this process — dubbed metallized DNA nanolithography — to create X and Y junctions, rings, and ribbons out of graphene.
Nanoribbons, which are simply very narrow strips of graphene, are of particular interest because they have a bandgap — a feature that graphene doesn’t normally possess. A bandgap means that these nanoribbons have semiconductive properties, which means they might one day be used in computer chips.
Graphene rings are also of interest, because they can be fashioned into quantum interference transistors — a new and not-well-understood transistor that connects three terminals to a ring, with the transistor’s gate being controlled by the flow of electrons around the ring.