The computer industry is involved in a never-ending quest for the highest possible performance from computer components and other electrical devices. Over the years, there have been many advances that have boosted the computational power of computer systems from increasing the number of transistors to adding multiple processing cores.
Researchers across the world are hard at work on building microprocessors and other electrical components using a material discovered in 2004 called graphene. A group of researchers at MIT announced on March 19 that new findings made could lead to much faster microprocessors in the future. The new findings could lead to cell phones and other communications equipment that can transmit data much faster than devices available today.
The researchers at MIT have built an experimental frequency multiplier made from graphene. The multiplier is capable of taking an incoming electronic signal at a specific frequency and producing an output signal that it a multiple of the original frequency. One example of a use for the graphene frequency multiplier is inside a microprocessor to determine the clock speed of a CPU.
Frequency multipliers are used widely today according to MIT, but the difference between the multipliers we have today and the graphene multiplier is one of signal noise. Today's multipliers produce noisy signals that require filtration and consume lots of power. The new graphene frequency multiplier consists of a single transistor and produces a clean output signal in a highly efficient manner.
MIT assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Tomas Palacios said in a statement, "In electronics, we're always trying to increase the frequency. It's very difficult to generate high frequencies above 4 or 5 gigahertz."
Palacios says that the graphene multiplier could lead to systems capable of operating in the 500 to 1,000 GHz range.
Palacios continued saying, "Researchers have been trying to find uses for this material since its discovery in 2004. I believe this application will have tremendous implications in high-frequency communications and electronics."
The graphene multiplier is still at the laboratory stage but the researchers believe that practical working systems using the graphene technology could be available in one to two years. The findings are being reported in a paper to be published in the May issue of Electron Device Letters.
The MIT researcher's multiplier is far from the only graphene device being tested in labs around the world. A group of researchers from Rice University created a new type of memory from graphene in December of 2008. The discovery could lead to graphene storage arrays in the future.
One of the key findings that may help push research into graphene based electronic devices was a discovery made in January 2009 by a group of researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The researchers discovered an easy way to control whether graphene is a semiconductor or a metal. Graphene in pure semiconductor form is required for use in computer processors and other components. The researchers explain that even a tiny section of graphene in metallic state along with mostly semiconducting graphene will destroy the semi-conductive properties of the graphene sheet.