Solution and on-surface synthesis of structurally defined graphene nanoribbons as a new family of semiconductors
Graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) are quasi-one-dimensional subunits of graphene and have open bandgaps in contrast to the zero-bandgap graphene. The high potential of GNRs as a new family of carbon-based semiconductors, e.g. for nanoelectronic and optoelectronic applications, has boosted the research attempts towards fabrication of GNRs. The predominant top-down methods such as lithographical patterning of graphene and unzipping of carbon nanotubes cannot prevent defect formation. In contrast, bottom-up chemical synthesis, starting from tailor-made molecular precursors, can achieve atomically precise GNRs. In this account, we summarize our recent research progress in the bottom-up synthesis of GNRs through three different methods, namely (1) in solution, (2) on-surface under ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) conditions, and (3) on-surface through chemical vapour deposition (CVD). The solution synthesis allows fabrication of long (>600 nm) and liquid-phase-processable GNRs that can also be functionalized at the edges. On the other hand, the on-surface synthesis under UHV enables formation of zigzag GNRs and in situ visualization of their chemical structures by atomic-resolution scanning probe microscopy. While the on-surface synthesis under UHV is typically costly and has limited scalability, the industrially viable CVD method can allow lower-cost production of large GNR films. We compare the three methods in terms of the affordable GNR structures and the resulting control of their electronic and optical properties together with post-processing for device integration. Further, we provide our views on future perspectives in the field of bottom-up GNRs.