Podcast – Boron Nitride Nanotubes and Wearable Devices

Mar 10, 2022 | PODCASTS

Boron Nitride Nanotubes and Wearable Memory Devices

Today’s boron podcast is Boron Nitride Nanotubes and wearable devices.It’s an intriguing title, but how come boron is being touted among the research community as a favored choice for powering wearable devices of the future.. The answer lies in a combination of characteristics in a form of boron called boron nitride nanotubes. But what exactly are these nanotubes? Find out more here.

Boron Nitride Nanotubes and Wearable Memory Devices

Well, they’re a polymorph of boron nitride. Polymorph being something which can take on different forms or structures. They’re created commercially via an induction thermal plasma system using pure boron nitride powder, which is continuously transformed into these nanotubes by passing through a high temperature nitrogen and hydrogen gas plasma.

So BNNTs, as they’re also known, can appear as incredibly small cylinders and this structure gives them high strength and flexibility. And they can be dipped or more accurately doped to improve strength and conductivity. As you may imagine, the applications range far and wide. They’re already used in various fields, including electronics, energy, biotechnology, and medicine In medicine they’re adapted for use as nano carriers in biomedical applications and in other fields even provide anti radiation properties when employed as a skin on surfaces of airplanes and others. What’s more because they’re so good at conducting electricity. They’ve been touted as new high-performance electric material for supercapacitors. So these micro thin layers of boron are light strong, flexible, and do not corrode or damage easily.

And by running a low voltage through the material there’s conductivity and power to potentially run and manage memory and storage in a wafer thin device, a device that can be wearable. This means that commercial applications can be developed to make use of all the above, offering the promise of a sort of Star Trek future where wearable devices say on your forearm or stitched into a piece of clothing can be used to store and process data and act as a communication device.

To find out a bit more, we looked into research being carried out in Korea. Researchers in Seoul are looking into developing boron -based nanomaterials for flexible memory devices for wearbales to store process and communicate data on the move. So our boron nitride nanotubes are formed in the lab for metal catalysts at high temperature and pressure.

But although these BNNTs can be synthesized this way, there are many challenges associated with the process, including difficulties controlling the tubes, shape and size and the need for costly equipment. The holy grail of commercialization would be able to develop methods for synthesizing BNNTs at room temperature.

And the team at the Korea Institute of Technology thinks they may have the answer or at least an approach that will lead to an answer. They are trying to make, BNNTs at room temperature, using a technique called vapor liquid solid, or VLS. BNNTs are produced by this method by using a catalyst solution containing transition metals, such as iron cobalt and nickel and copper.

When this catalyst is heated, the solvent vaporizes resulting in the precipitation of the transition metals onto the substrate surface. So these BNNTs are then nucleated on the catalyst particles to produce single wall BNNT.

There are also BNNT structures with multiple walls, which can strengthen and improve storage and conductivity. This is all possible, but still difficult to do. Professor Don Ip Song at the Institute is behind all this work. He’s developed a transparent ultrathin memory device based on these boron nitride, nanotubes. It’s heady stuff..

The new material consists of monolayer zero dimensional quantum dots, which are sandwiched between two dimensional hexagonal, boron, nitride. Nanomaterials. If the team can integrate the resulting materials into a high density memory cell, they can make a working prototype of a thin or flexible memory device.

Now what’s the connection between boron and flexible memory. Well, flexible memory is essential to processing storing data. The memory device needs a low set voltage and a high switching current ratio. And the transparency of the material also increases storage capacity. Along with this, carrier trapping properties or restricting movement of electrons and holes for more stability are also key to the success of the research.

So to date, the researchers have used two dimensional boron-based nanomaterials to develop their transparent ultra thin memory device. Now, while conventional 2d matte nanomaterials have poor carrier trapping properties. As we noted boron and cadmium nitride composites have excellent trapping characteristics.

So by introducing these quantum dots with exceptional quantum limiting properties into the active layer of a 2d nanomaterial, the team has developed a device that has a chance to become a memory candidate of the future.

So what’s in the device? While the device is transparent and flexible. It’s comprised of quantum dots, stacked vertically between the 2d hexagonal boron nitride nanomaterials and this developed device maintains more than 80% transparency and memory function, even when bent. So the flexibility is a major advantage, especially if it’s to be applied into commercialization of products, which will be worn in clothing or worn around the wrist, for example.

So what says the professor about all this? He says, and I quote. As an alternative to graphene, we have developed a method for controlling quantum dots on insulating hexagonal boron nitride that has laid the foundation for ultra thin nano composite structure research, revealing new concepts of fabrication and operation for next generation memory devices.

So the next steps are to increase density by developing a flexible resistance variable memory that utilizes this two dimensional nanomaterial.

Well, despite the fact that a transparent ultra thin memory device may be difficult to fabricate the device seems to be already on the way to becoming a reality. We look forward to seeing how more research leads to potential commercialization.

In the meantime, what other wearable device research is going on out there? Well, bio composite materials, or a combination of two materials to create a new improved material are another excellent candidate for transparent ultrathin memory devices as bio composites have excellent flexibility and stability, and eco-friendlyness.

And like boron, they’re also highly flexible allowing for a high degree of translucency.

That’s where we are today. It’s going to be an exciting few years while we wait for these devices to appear in the marketplace.

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