Business, Hardware

Graphene edges closer to real world use


So what is cooler than a new CPU process? How about a completely new material? Ok so graphene [a sheet of graphite that is one atom thick] is not new it is actually about 40 years old according to some estimates of its initial discovery. However the one thing that no one has been able to do so far is to get it into a working form that could be used to produce working chips.

At least that was the state until the end of 2008, around that time someone was able to create a simple transistor from grapheme. During 2009 there was quite a bit of work going on to make graphene a workable solution for the production of semiconductors [or more specifically superconductors]. However, there have been more than a few problems in getting this to market. One of the first is the bandgap issue. This issue revolves around the unfortunate fact that graphene does not naturally have a bandgap. This means that someone has to artificially give it one. IBM was able to do this by putting an insulating layer between the graphene layer and its High-k gate. This layer is made of a polymer that helps to remove electronic instabilities when oxides directly contact graphene. By doing this IBM was able to increase the on-off ratio in their graphene based FETs from around ten to around 100.

But that is not the whole story; even though this is a great break through there is still more work to do with IBM and their polymer. Additionally someone needs to come up with a reliable process to create graphene based wafers.

Penn State University has stepped up to that challenge. They have announced the creation of 100mm graphene wafers. These wafers were constructed using a process called silicon sublimation. This process involves using furnace to remove the silicon from thermally processed silicon carbide wafers. Once the silicon is gone what is left is a layer of one to two atom thick graphene on the surface. This advancement represents the largest graphene wafer to date and doubles the pervious diameter [50mm]. Between these two breakthroughs we could see graphene show up in high performance electronics mush sooner than the currently predicted 10-15 years.

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