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A High-Performance and Cost Effective Hydrogen Sensor
(Research team of Professor Park, Professor Jung, and research fellow Gao Min) A KAIST research team reported a high-performance and cost effective hydrogen sensor using novel fabrication process based on the combination of polystyrene nanosphere lithography and semiconductor microfabrication processes. The research team, led by Professor Inkyu Park in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Professor Yeon Sik Jung in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, fabricated a nanostructured high-performance hydrogen gas sensor based on a palladium-decorated silicon nanomesh structure made using a polystyrene nanosphere self-assembly method. Their study was featured as the front cover article of journal “Small” (Publisher: Wiley-VCH) on March 8, 2018. The nanosphere lithography method utilizes the self-assembly of a nanosphere monolayer. This could be an alternative choice for achieving uniform and well-ordered nanopatterns with minimum sub-10 nanometer dimensions. The research team said that the small dimensions of the silicon enhanced the palladium-gating effect and thus dramatically improved the sensitivity. Hydrogen gas is widely considered to be one of the most promising next-generation energy resources. Also, it is a very important material for various industrial applications such as hydrogen-cooled systems, petroleum refinement, and metallurgical processes. However, hydrogen, which is highly flammable, is colorless and odorless and thus difficult to detect with human senses. Therefore, developing hydrogen gas sensors with high sensitivity, fast response, high selectivity, and good stability is of significant importance for the rising hydrogen economy. Silicon nanowire-based devices have been employed as efficient components in high-performance sensors for detecting gases and other chemical and biological components. Since the nanowires have a high surface-to-volume ratio, they respond more sensitively to the surrounding environment. The research team’s gas sensor shows dramatically improved hydrogen gas sensitivity compared with a silicon thin film sensor without nanopatterns. Furthermore, a buffered oxide etchant (BOE) treatment of the silicon nanomesh structure results in an additional performance improvement through suspension of nanomesh strutures from the substrate and surface roughening. The sensor device shows a fast hydrogen response (response time < 5 seconds) and 10 times higher selectivity to hydrogen gas among other gases. Their sensing performance is stable and shows repeatable responses in both dry and high-humidity ambient environments. Professor Park said that his approach will be very useful for the fabrication of low-cost, high-performance sensors for chemical and biological detection with applications to mobile and wearable devices in the coming era of internet of things (IoTs). (Figure 1: The front cover image of Small dated on March 8.) (Figure 2: Gas sensor responses upon the exposure to H2 at various concentrations.)
KAIST Team Develops Flexible PRAM
Phase change random access memory (PRAM) is one of the strongest candidates for next-generation nonvolatile memory for flexible and wearable electronics. In order to be used as a core memory for flexible devices, the most important issue is reducing high operating current. The effective solution is to decrease cell size in sub-micron region as in commercialized conventional PRAM. However, the scaling to nano-dimension on flexible substrates is extremely difficult due to soft nature and photolithographic limits on plastics, thus practical flexible PRAM has not been realized yet. Recently, a team led by Professors Keon Jae Lee and Yeon Sik Jung of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST has developed the first flexible PRAM enabled by self-assembled block copolymer (BCP) silica nanostructures with an ultralow current operation (below one quarter of conventional PRAM without BCP) on plastic substrates. BCP is the mixture of two different polymer materials, which can easily create self-ordered arrays of sub-20 nm features through simple spin-coating and plasma treatments. BCP silica nanostructures successfully lowered the contact area by localizing the volume change of phase-change materials and thus resulted in significant power reduction. Furthermore, the ultrathin silicon-based diodes were integrated with phase-change memories (PCM) to suppress the inter-cell interference, which demonstrated random access capability for flexible and wearable electronics. Their work was published in the March issue of ACS Nano: "Flexible One Diode-One Phase Change Memory Array Enabled by Block Copolymer Self-Assembly." Another way to achieve ultralow-powered PRAM is to utilize self-structured conductive filaments (CF) instead of the resistor-type conventional heater. The self-structured CF nanoheater originated from unipolar memristor can generate strong heat toward phase-change materials due to high current density through the nanofilament. This ground-breaking methodology shows that sub-10 nm filament heater, without using expensive and non-compatible nanolithography, achieved nanoscale switching volume of phase change materials, resulted in the PCM writing current of below 20 uA, the lowest value among top-down PCM devices. This achievement was published in the June online issue of ACS Nano: "Self-Structured Conductive Filament Nanoheater for Chalcogenide Phase Transition." In addition, due to self-structured low-power technology compatible to plastics, the research team has recently succeeded in fabricating a flexible PRAM on wearable substrates. Professor Lee said, "The demonstration of low power PRAM on plastics is one of the most important issues for next-generation wearable and flexible non-volatile memory. Our innovative and simple methodology represents the strong potential for commercializing flexible PRAM." In addition, he wrote a review paper regarding the nanotechnology-based electronic devices in the June online issue of Advanced Materials entitled "Performance Enhancement of Electronic and Energy Devices via Block Copolymer Self-Assembly." Picture Caption: Low-power nonvolatile PRAM for flexible and wearable memories enabled by (a) self-assembled BCP silica nanostructures and (b) self-structured conductive filament nanoheater.
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