The first functional semiconductor made of graphene is launched with electron mobility 10 times that of silicon

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States have created the world's first functional semiconductor made of graphene. This breakthrough opens the door to the development of entirely new electronic products. The research was published in the journal Nature.

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Molecular models of graphene and silicon carbide. Image source: Georgia Tech

Graphene is a single sheet of carbon atoms held together by the strongest bonds known. Semiconductors are materials that conduct electricity under certain conditions and are fundamental components of electronic devices. A long-standing problem in graphene electronics is that graphene doesn't have the right bandgap and doesn't turn on and off at the right ratio. Over the years, many people have tried various methods to solve this problem. The latest technology achieves the band gap, a key step in developing graphene-based electronics.

The research team achieved a breakthrough when using a special furnace to grow graphene on silicon carbide wafers. They produced epitaxial graphene, a single layer grown on a silicon carbide crystal plane. The study found that when made correctly, epitaxial graphene chemically bonds to silicon carbide and begins to exhibit semiconducting properties.

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Graphene devices are grown on silicon carbide substrate chips. Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

But to make functional transistors, semiconductor materials must be manipulated extensively, which can compromise their performance. The team must measure its electronic properties without damaging it to prove that their platform functions as a viable semiconductor.

They put atoms on graphene and used doping techniques to "donate" electrons to the system to see if the material was a good conductor. Measurements showed that their graphene semiconductor has 10 times the mobility of silicon. In other words, electrons move with very low resistance, which in electronics means faster calculations. Researchers say it's like driving on a gravel road versus a highway. It's more efficient, doesn't heat up as much, and is faster, so the electrons can move faster.

The newly developed product is currently the only two-dimensional semiconductor with all the necessary properties for use in nanoelectronics, and its electrical properties are far superior to any other two-dimensional semiconductor currently under development.

Researchers say epitaxial graphene could cause a paradigm shift in electronics, leading to entirely new technologies that take advantage of its unique properties. The product allows the quantum mechanical wave residential properties of electrons to be made use of, hence satisfying the needs of quantum computing.

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