Recently, researchers have reported local storage of charge in mesoscopic graphitic islands (MGIs) – few-layer graphene cut out in the form of islands but remaining embedded in highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) substrates. The embedded MGIs are isolated from the surrounding graphite surface by nanometre-scale trenches formed by local electrochemical reactions using a biased atomic force microscope (AFM) tip. By applying a bias voltage between the tip and the HOPG substrate, the spontaneous formation of a water meniscus generates several oxidative species (O, OH), leading to the local oxidation and etching of the underlying graphite surface.

Interestingly and unexpectedly the MGIs are found to store electrical charge, as revealed by electrostatic force microscopy (EFM). The retention of charge seems to be nearly permanent as there is only a weak interaction between the MGI and the bottom graphitic layers. What makes it even more interesting is that the charge storage is right on the conducting surface.

These results may be exploited in graphene devices if MGI extraction and transfer onto desired substrates such as boron nitride can be achieved. In addition, the oxy-functional groups in the trenches offer a means of further functionalization with molecules carrying suitable mating groups of specific interest.

The work has resulted from collaboration between the Jawaharial Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, India, and the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue University, US, and has been published in the journal Nanotechnology.