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Bugs in the System

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Wrinkles in graphene (red) produced by bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago have discovered how to produce wrinkles in graphene by using bacteria.

Credit: Vikas Berry/

Bacteria could be used to improve the electronic properties of graphene, as Vikas Berry of the University of Illinois in Chicago and colleagues have discovered how to produce wrinkles controllably in graphene, using a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis.

Graphene lacks a bandgap, a property needed to create the distinct "on" and "off" electronic states that transistors rely on to work, and which is induced in a material by disrupting the way its electrons are distributed. The team reports Bacillus subtilis cells form wrinkles about 33 nanometers apart, which is the separation of ridges imposed on graphene, and this is too far apart to create a significant bandgap. The ridges would have to be less than five nanometers apart to disrupt graphene's electronic structure enough, and Berry believes such distances might be achieved by using another species of bacterium.

The researchers also found electrons traversing a sheet of wrinkly graphene are channeled between the ridges. They view bacteria as key to turning graphene into a semiconductor.

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