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Carbon, the New King in the Semiconductor Industry

Written by IT News on 5:45 PM

Silicon is likely to be kicked out of the team
By: Bogdan Botezatu, Hardware Editor |

Silicon is one of the oldest veterans in the IT industry. It has marched a long way but modern requirements tend to ask for more than it can offer. Just like the transistor, silicone is about to retire, or at least this is what Princeton University researchers say.

The Princeton University engineers have discovered a method that is alleged to substitute the old fashioned silicon with carbon. They say that the team found a way to build transistors on a graphene substrate a few atoms thick. This will bring unimagined benefits to the semiconductor industry, as the method offers switching speeds up to ten times higher than the conventional, silicon substrate.

The main obstacle was getting a wide enough graphene sheet that can be used with modern wafer technology. Initially they could achieve a sheet of couple square millimeters in extreme laboratory conditions while a processor asks for 300 to 500 millimeter layers. The researchers needed to weld more tiny patches to achieve the desired surface and then to overlay them on a traditional silicon substrate wherever logic circuits are required. The final result is a set of graphene tiles paving the substrate.

The process is extremely delicate and involves an enormous amount of work, but "electronic hole" measurements show that carbon circuits can perform ten times faster than silicon. This will have a huge impact on tomorrow's technology, such as cell phones and wireless devices: they will be smaller and will consume less power at an improved performance rate.

The researchers consider that the technology will become truly viable in a few years. Once demonstrated, the technology must be scaled to match larger applications and it is highly likely that entire CPUs can be achieved – units that will be ten times faster at the same power consumption as the ones we are using today.

The full credit for the achievement goes to professor of electrical engineering Stephen Chou and graduate student Xiaogan Liang at Princeton University. As for the funds, the university is financed by the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as other government institutions.

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