A two-dimensional material that can be sprayed onto any surface can contain electromagnetic radiation and prevent interference between devices, according to its developers.
The material, a titanium carbide from a group known as MXenes, outperforms even its more famous 2D counterpart graphene and prevents the electromagnetic waves from propagating with an efficiency equalling that of currently used copper and aluminium foils. A layer of titanium carbide only 8 micrometres thick blocks 99.9999 per cent of the electromagnetic radiation, covering a wide range of frequencies from those emitted by mobile phones to radar, a research team from Drexel University, the USA, and the Korea Institute of Science & Technology stated in an article in the journal Science.
"Internal electromagnetic noise coming from different electronic parts can have a serious effect on everyday devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptops, leading to malfunctions and overall degradation of the device," said Babak Anasori, a research assistant professor at the AJ Drexel Nanomaterials Institute (DNI).
"As technology evolves and electronics become lighter, faster and smaller, their electromagnetic interference increases dramatically."
Currently, copper or aluminium shrouds and cages can be used to prevent electromagnetic interference. However, these structures are too bulky for use in pocket electronics.
“In general, adequate shielding can be achieved by using thick metals. However, material consumption and weight leave them at a disadvantage for use in aerospace and telecommunication applications," explained Anasori.
Here is where the new coating comes in. Easily sprayable onto various surfaces and only a few atoms thick, the titanium carbide coating could in future allow shielding even the most minuscule components inside smartphones, the researchers believe.
"With technology advancing so fast, we expect smart devices to have more capabilities and become smaller every day. This means packing more electronic parts in one device and more devices surrounding us," said DNI director Yury Gogotsi, who led the research. "To have all these electronic components working without interfering with each other, we need shields that are thin, light and easy to apply to devices of different shapes and sizes. We believe MXenes are going to be the next generation of shielding materials for portable, flexible and wearable electronics."
The key to titanium carbide’s effectiveness lies in its high electrical conductivity and two-dimensional structure. When electromagnetic waves come in contact with the material, some are immediately reflected from its surface, while others pass through the surface but lose energy inside the material's atomically thin layers. The lower energy electromagnetic waves are eventually reflected back and forth off the internal layers until they are completely absorbed in the structure.