Graphene, carbon arranged in atom-thick sheets, is already known to be an excellent conductor, but electronics requires the ability to insulate too.
Lead researcher Konstantin Novoselov has revealed that the material can be easily modified to act as an insulator if hydrogen atoms are added to its surface.
The resulting material called graphene has insulating properties.
The discovery that graphene can be modified into new materials, fine tuning its electronic properties, has opened up the increasingly rich possibilities in the development of future electronic devices from the versatile material.
This method may help chip manufacturers- struggling to constantly shrink transistors- to develop computer processors entirely composed of carbon, rather than silicon.
"In electronics, all digital elements, transistors, switch signals on and off, so they should have a large difference between the open and closed-state resistances," New Scientist quoted Alex Savchenko at the University of Exeter in the UK as saying.
"The new study offers perhaps [the most] practical solution. Using the technique, it is possible to tune the graphene to be conductor, insulator, or anything in between," he added.
The study appears in journal Science.