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From Theory to Patent

An international patent has been filed by the UPV/EHU's NanoBio Spectroscopy Group. It results from a collaboration of ETSF researchers in Spain (Prof. Rubio), Luxembourg (Dr Wirtz), France (Dr Attacalite) and Italy (Dr Marini), thanks to the ETSF infrastructure and network.

Diagram of the patented Gate-tunable light-emitting device. Images courtesy of UPV/EHU.This patent is about a new source of light emission. Its main feature is that it emits across the visible and UV spectrums at ambient temperature, and can be produced using standard manufacturing methods. The light emitter is based on boron nitride nanotubes, a nanotechnology material known for its excellent insulating properties, resistance and 2-D structure similar to graphene.

Prof. Angel Rubio has been working with boron nitride nanotubes for nearly 20 years. “We proposed them theoretically, and then they were found experimentally. So far, all our theoretical predictions have been confirmed, and that is very gratifying,” he said.

Using first principles simulations, the ETSF researchers unambiguously shown that i) boron nitride nanotubes inherit the highly efficient UV luminescence of hexagonal boron nitride; ii) the application of an external perpendicular field closes the electronic gap keeping the UV lasing with lower yield; iii) defects in boron nitride nanotubes are responsible for tunable light emission from the UV to the visible controlled by a transverse electric field (TEF).

The solution could open the door to commercial applications of hexagonal boron nitride nanotubes, to be incorporated in microelectronics technologies or optoelectronic devices for example. However, these nanotubes are still only produced in very small quantities, with no commercial-scale synthesis process yet established. "I have no doubt as to the long-term potential of these new materials that offer an alternative to graphene," Rubio said.

Reference: Claudio Attaccalite et al., “Efficient Gate-tunable light-emitting device made of defective boron nitride nanotubes: from ultraviolet to the visible,” Scientific Reports 3, 2698 (2013).

Contact: angel [dot] rubio [at] ehu [dot] es (Prof. Angel Rubio)