SnIP, a DNA-like semiconductor material, offers new possibilities

In the past, scientists used DNA in nanodevices to
manipulate it into mimicking a semiconductor. But what if they could create an
inorganic semiconductor that had the properties, such as flexibility, of DNA? 



The world of electronics is about to find out, thanks to researchers
at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The team has discovered a double-helix structure similar to DNA’s in an inorganic semiconductor material which
consists of tin (Sn), iodine (I), and phosphorus (P), resulting in its chemical
name, SnIP. These elements form in the SnIP around a double-helix

According to the researchers, the arrangement of atoms into
a double-helix structure in the centimeter-long fibers enabled the material to
be split into smaller strands. In the lab, the team made fibers as small as
five double-helix strands that were just a few nanometers thick. The
researchers believe that being able to get the fibers down to such a size
allows for a host of nanoelectronic applications.

Being a semiconductor, SnIP must have an inherent band gap,
although unlike other inorganic semiconductors, it’s extremely flexible.

“The combination of
interesting semiconductor properties and mechanical flexibility gives us great
optimism regarding possible applications,” said Tom Nilges, a professor at
TUM, whose lab conducted the research, in a press release. “Compared to
organic solar cells, we hope to achieve significantly higher stability from the
inorganic materials. For example, SnIP remains stable up to around 500°C (930

One major breakthrough of the
technology is the ability to scale up the production of a double-helix
materials beyond the milligram scale. According to Nilges, this is the first
double-helix material to be prepared on a gram scale in a simple solid phase
reaction via the gas phase.

“The preparation of SnIP is
easy and non-toxic components are involved,” said Nilges. “All elements in SnIP
are abundant and better available than Gallium (Ga), Indium (In) or Arsenide
(As).” Indium phosphide (InP) and gallium arsenide (GaAS) are
prominent semiconductors used in modern computer chips containing such toxic or
expensive elements.

Possible applications of SnIP include flexible semiconductor
devices, solar cells, thermoelectric devices, and water splitting.


Source: Technical
University of Munich