British researchers have just discovered that the deformation of graphene could lead to the design of semiconductors up to 1000 times faster.
Physicists at the University of Sussex in the UK have discovered that equipping phones and laptops with tiny chips made of graphene could dramatically improve the performance of our devices. These strips of graphene folded like origami paper make it possible to manufacture microchips up to 100 times smaller than conventional chips.
This study, which should be talked about a lot, proves that modifying the structure of nanomaterials like graphene can unlock electronic properties and allow the material to act effectively as a transistor. Scientists deliberately created bends in a layer of graphene and found that the material could, therefore, be designed to behave like an electronic component.
Graphene, and its nanoscale dimensions, could therefore be exploited to design the smallest electronic chips ever made, which will be useful in building faster phones and laptops. For Alan Dalton, professor at the University of Sussex, “we mechanically create elbows in a layer of graphene. It's a bit like a nano-origami”.
Huge potentialDiscovered in 2004, graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms the thickness of an atom, which, due to its nanometric width, is actually a two-dimensional material. Graphene is best known for its exceptional strength, but also for the conductivity properties of the material, which have already aroused a lot of interest in the electronics industry, especially from Samsung Electronics.
The field of straintronics has already shown that the deformation of the structure of 2D nanomaterials such as graphene, but also molybdenum disulfide, can unlock key electronic properties. Still, the exact impact of these different "folds" remains poorly understood, argue the researchers. Never mind, the behavior of these materials offers enormous potential for high-performance devices: it could alter the structure of a strip of 2D material to efficiently convert it into a superconductor.
The British study looks at the impact that these deformations could have in leading to the creation of smaller electronic components. “We have shown that we can create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate elbows into the structure. By doing this kind of ripple, we can create an intelligent electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate, ”boasts Manoj Tripathi, a researcher on nanostructured materials at the University of Sussex.
Result on the shortage of semiconductors?These findings should resonate with an industry struggling to comply with Moore's Law, according to which the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, in response to the growing demand for faster IT services. The problem is, engineers are scrambling to find ways to squeeze much more processing power into the tiny chips, which creates a big problem for the traditional semiconductor industry.
A tiny graphene-based transistor could make a significant contribution to overcoming these obstacles. “Using these nanomaterials will make our computer chips smaller and faster. It is absolutely essential that this happens because computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconductor technology.
Ultimately, it will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future,” say the researchers behind the study.
Since its discovery over 15 years ago, graphene has struggled to find as many applications as initially hoped, and the material has often been touted as a victim of its own hype. But it took more than a century for the first silicon chip to be created after the material was discovered in 1824. Research at the University of Sussex is emerging as a new step towards the discovery of the use of graphene that could be a game-changer.