First functional graphene chips made, potentially terahertz speeds
January 20, 2024

First functional graphene chips made, potentially terahertz speeds

Researchers from Georgia Tech University in Atlanta have announced that they have developed the first functional example of a graphene-based semiconductor. This breakthrough and graphene chips promise a real revolution in the field of electronics and significantly higher speeds, especially in the field of computers.

As reported by Spectrum, the research led by Valt de Heer, professor of physics at this university, was published on January 3, and focuses on the use of epitaxial graphene, a crystalline structure of carbon chemically bonded to silicon carbide (SiC). The new material, called semiconducting epitaxial graphene (SEC) or epigraphen for short, is characterized by higher electron mobility compared to traditional silicon, due to significantly lower resistance. The result of this is that epigraphene-based transistors could operate at speeds in the terahertz range, which is a significant difference compared to the currently available speeds in real products.

Graphene chips become semiconductors by heating in a vacuum

De Heer explained that the technique for obtaining this material is simple and has been known for 50 years, and boils down to heating SiC to over 1,000 °C, whereby silicon evaporates from the surface and carbon forms graphene. Although it has been known since 2008 that it is possible to make graphene behave like a semiconductor, by heating it in a vacuum with SiC, the method developed by De Her is key to obtaining consistent results and high electron mobility.

Semiconductors are an essential component of all modern electronic devices and have characteristics of both conductors and insulators at the same time. Silicon, on which the majority of current technologies are based, is slowly reaching its limits in terms of speed, miniaturization and heating, so an alternative is necessary that would enable further development at the pace we are used to.

Graphene seems to be the best candidate, but the researchers also highlight its potential for quantum computing, due to the fact that when this material is used at low temperatures, its electrons exhibit wavelike quantum-mechanical properties like light. These properties, which are not available in silicon, open up possibilities for a completely new approach in electronics.

The Georgia Tech research team, however, believes that their discovery will not be implemented in its current form and continues to experiment with materials such as boron nitride to protect the material and increase compatibility with conventional semiconductor production lines. De Haar states that development will take time, and that the amount of work involved is key to faster implementation, apparently alluding to industry support.