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Researchers have created the first ever graphene semiconductor

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Graphene is a 2D wonder material with amazing properties which make it ideal for computing applications, but so far it’s been hard to create a graphene computer chip.

 

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In the 21st century the pursuit is to develop electronic devices that are both smaller and faster, whether for applications in the medical sector or robotics, the result of which means that so far we’ve seen transistors hitting 3nm, 2nm, with 1nm now on the production roadmap for 2030, and transistors as small as 0.5nm and even 0nm and even liquid transistors in the labs. But, as these little marvels of modern technology get smaller there’s an increasing need for new materials that will help solve some of the problems of scale, such as excess heat.

 

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Now, after years of trying researchers have hit a significant milestone after a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Tianjin University in China announced they’ve successfully engineered the world’s first functional semiconductor using the 2D wonder material Graphene.

“To me, this is like a Wright brothers moment,” said Walter de Heer, Regents’ Professor of Physics at Georgia Techde, who led this development.

 

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Graphene is a 2D honeycomb-like structure formed by a single layer of carbon atoms organised in a hexagonal lattice. It is well-known for having exceptional qualities, including strong electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, and flexibility.

“It’s an extremely robust material, one that can handle very large currents and can do so without heating up and falling apart,” said de Heer.

 

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Semiconductors are materials that exhibit electrical conductivity under particular conditions, and this innovation holds great importance in the electronics industry, considering that the commonly used silicon material is nearing its limits in the face of increased demand for quicker processing and smaller electronic devices.

Georgia Tech’s graphene semiconductor has the potential to emerge as a viable substitute for silicon in the years ahead. According to the press release, the semiconductor is compatible with “conventional microelectronics processing methods.”

 

See how they did it.

 

“We now have an extremely robust graphene semiconductor with 10 times the mobility of silicon, and which also has unique properties not available in silicon,” de Heer said. De Heer and his colleagues accomplished this by inventing a method for growing graphene on silicon carbide wafers using specialised furnaces.

As a result, epitaxial graphene – a single layer clinging to silicon carbide’s crystal face – was formed. The researchers proved that epitaxial graphene chemically binds to silicon carbide, demonstrating semiconducting characteristics, after extensive testing.

 

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The scientists also used a technique called doping to test the material’s conductivity. Their experiments revealed that this novel graphene semiconductor has 10 times the mobility of silicon. However, achieving this breakthrough was challenging, the team faced a major obstacle in graphene research – the absence of a “band gap.”

This critical electronic feature is essential for semiconductors to switch on and off effectively and is a basic aspect of electronic performance, and until this development graphene lacked a band gap.

“A long-standing problem in graphene electronics is that graphene didn’t have the right band gap and couldn’t switch on and off at the correct ratio,” said Lei Ma, director of Tianjin International Center for Nanoparticles and Nanosystems at Tianjin University in China, in a press release.

 

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“Over the years, many have tried to address this with a variety of methods. Our technology achieves the band gap and is a crucial step in realizing graphene-based electronics,” Ma, a co-author of this study, added.

This achievement marks a paradigm shift in the field of electronics, paving the way for a new era of technologies harnessing the extraordinary capabilities of graphene.

The research was published in the journal Nature on January 13.

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