Graphene, the single layer of carbon atoms that is both incredibly strong and flexible. As we reported in Cosmos magazine in January, the material has the strength to stop a bullet and the finesse to let a proton through.
But while its unique properties have suggested uses ranging from phone chargers to water filters, real-life applications have been slow to appear.
Scientific American now reports that engineers are also now turning to a promising alternative with a similar structure – a single layer of black phosphorus atoms, called phosphorene.
Under high pressure, phosphorus becomes black phosphorus, a material with superconductive properties discovered about a century ago. Recently, in 2014, a team of researchers at Purdue University isolated just one layer of black phosphorus atoms. Since then, others in the field have started investigating phosphorene. More than 400 papers with the two-dimensional material’s name have been published this year alone.
One of the attractions is that, while graphene is not a natural semiconductor, black phosphorus is a “bona fide semiconductor”, in the words of Thomas Szkopek, who specializes in 2-D materials at McGill University. Its conductivity can be switched on and off.
Szkopek says excitement is mounting over phosphorene’s potential to replace less efficient materials in electronics.