Building Better Electronics With Graphene

Nick DePorzioAs a freshman, I was extremely honored to be offered a position in Northeastern University’s Center for Graphene Research, an opportunity I had not expected until my later years. With the assistance of an Honors Early Research Grant, I was able to dive into the life of laboratory work without delay. Honestly, the cost of the new safety gear I needed alone may have been difficult to manage without the grant’s support!

Electron beams, dangerous chemicals, and giant microscopes, amongst other cool “toys”, were nothing short of a dream for me as a Physics major to have access to. Now, while they seem like toys to me, we use these instruments to perform some very interesting work. Most of our research is done at the nano scale and utilizing a material called graphene – that is, we study and create objects that are about a billionth the size of baseball bat. Graphene, a single sheet of carbon atoms one atom thick, is one such object. Now why would we want to do this? Well, besides just being small, these objects can be used to perform tasks, like acting as transistors and as photon detectors – devices which we make good use of in devices like our computers and cameras, amongst other things.

In our lab, our research focuses exactly on how we can use graphene and similar materials to create such objects and push the limits of their function.Since entering the lab, I have begun my own work alongside one of the lab’s graduate students, Anthony Vargas, and under the supervision of Professor Swastik Kar, the director of the lab. Often, when we think of an atom, we think of a core of protons and neutrons surrounded by sort-of shells of electrons. In the lab, instead of shells, we call these electron locations energy levels. In my project, we are trying to do is compress these energy levels and make the distance between these shells smaller. To do this, we take very small particles, nano-particles, and put them under very high pressure. We then expect to see changes in the type or amount of light these particles absorb while under this extreme pressure. If successful, we can then use our findings to better understand, tune, and manipulate particles to suit our functional needs.

This experience has been both exciting and enlightening, enlightening in that it has been my first opportunity to experience what research in the real world is like. It has been filled with growth and learning and, of course, a great deal of hard work. I have many to thank for this experience, and of those is the Honors Program and the Early Research Grant.

Nicholas DePorzio, Physics