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Graphene: Key to superfast chips

Posted: 23 Mar 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:silicon chips  graphene chip  frequency multiplier  electromagnetic signal 

Graphene is related to the better-known buckyballs and carbon nanotubes, which also are made of one-atom-thick sheets of carbon. But in those materials, the carbon sheets are rolled up in the form of a tube or a ball. While physicists had long speculated that flat sheets of the material should be theoretically possible, some had doubted that it could ever remain stable in the real world.

"In physics today, graphene is, arguably, the most exciting topic," Palacios says. It is the strongest material ever discovered, and also has a number of unsurpassed electrical properties, such as "mobility"—the ease with which electrons can start moving in the material, key to use in electronics—which is 100 times that of silicon, the standard material of computer chips.

One key factor in enabling widespread use of graphene will be perfecting methods for making the material in sufficient quantity. The material was first identified, and most of the early work was based on, using "sticky tape technology," Palacios explains. That involves taking a block of graphite, pressing a piece of sticky tape against it, peeling it off and then applying the tape to a wafer of silicon or other material.

But Kong has been developing a method for growing entire wafers of graphene directly, which could make the material practical for electronics. Kong and Palacios' groups are currently working to transfer the frequency multipliers to these new graphene wafers.

"Graphene will play a key role in future of electronics," Palacios says. "We just need to identify the right devices to take full advantage of its outstanding properties. Frequency multipliers could be one of these devices."


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