New method allows researchers to make graphene with semiconductor or metallic properties at will

Today, the interconnects in a CPU or any other electronic device using a semiconductor are made from copper. Scientists are looking at ways to use new material for these interconnects using substances that are faster and produce less heat.

One of the new materials with the most potential is called graphene. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute claim that they have discovered a new method for controlling graphene's nature. Graphene is a one-atom thin sheet of carbon that was discovered in 2004.

Graphene is being used by researchers at Rice University to make a new type of memory that could one day replace flash storage. Before graphene memory and other nanoelectronics using graphene can become a reality, researchers have to find more effective methods of producing graphene with the properties they need.

Rensselaer researcher Saroj Nayak and a postdoctoral research associate have demonstrated a new method that can be used to control the nature of graphene. According to the pair, the nature of graphene can be controlled depending on the substrate on which it is grown, thus shaping its conductive properties.

Results based on large-scale quantum mechanical simulations show that graphene deposited on a surface treated with oxygen results in semiconductor properties while graphene deposited on a surface treated with hydrogen exhibits metallic properties.

This is a key discovery according to the researchers because when a conventional batch of graphene is produced some of it has semiconductor properties and some has metallic properties. The researchers say that using conventional methods it would be impossible to extract one form of graphene. Devices based on graphene would need to have only one graphene form in order to function.

Nayak said in a statement, "Depending on the chemistry of the surface, we can control the nature of the graphene to be metallic or semiconductor. Essentially, we are ‘tuning’ the electrical properties of material to suit our needs."

The reason researchers are pushing so hard to discover better methods for the production of graphene is that the substance could one day replace silicon and copper as the building blocks of electronics. Graphene has excellent conductive properties and at room temperature, electrons can pass through it at close to the speed of light with very little resistance.

Interconnects made from graphene would therefore create much less heat and would be able to run cooler. Cooler interconnects are important because heat can have a negative effect on a CPUs speed and performance. Just consider the huge increases overclockers are able to get out of a CPU when it is cooled more efficiently as an example.

The results of the study by the Rensselaer researchers was published in a paper this week titled "Electronic structure and band-gap modulation of graphene via substrate surface chemistry" published in Applied Physics Letters' January issue.

It is interesting to note that the researchers who were trying to make memory using graphene were using ten atom thick sheets of graphene, whereas the researchers at Rensselaer are using single atom thick graphene sheets.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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