Graphene has demonstrated its potential in several practical applications owing to its remarkable electronic and physical properties. In this study, we successfully fabricated a suspended graphene device with a width down to 20 nm. The morphological evolution of graphene under various electric field effects was systematically examined using an in situ transmission electron microscope (TEM). The hourglass-shaped graphene sample instantly broke apart at 7.5 mA, indicating an impressive breakdown current density. The current-carrying capacity was calculated to be ~1.6 × 109 A·cm–2, which is several orders higher than that of copper. The current-carrying capacity depended on the resistivity of graphene. In addition, atomic volume changes occurred in the multilayer graphene samples due to surface diffusion and Ostwald ripening (OR), indicating that the breakdown mechanism is well approximated by the electric field. This study not only provides a theory to explain the breakdown behavior but also presents the effects on materials contacted with a graphene layer used as the transmission path.
Application of current as high as 7.5 mA to 20nm-thin graphene sheets was utilized to investigate their structural evolution and breakdown inside a TEM. HRTEM imaging revealed formation of C540 and larger clusters due to Joule heating and applied electric-field. Combined with simultaneous I-V measurement, this study helps better understanding of surface atomic configuration in nanoelectronics.