World’s First Functional Semiconductor Using Graphene is Here!

The team, led by Walter de Heer, Regents' Professor of Physics at Georgia Tech, has successfully engineered the world's first functional semiconductor using graphene, marking a significant leap in the realm of electronic materials.

Introduction:


In the relentless pursuit of smaller and faster electronic devices for applications ranging from medical sectors to robotics, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have achieved a groundbreaking milestone. The team, led by Walter de Heer, Regents’ Professor of Physics at Georgia Tech, has successfully engineered the world’s first functional semiconductor using graphene, marking a significant leap in the realm of electronic materials.

This breakthrough not only opens doors for advancements in conventional microelectronics but also holds the potential to revolutionize quantum computing.

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Graphene’s Extraordinary Properties:


Graphene, a two-dimensional honeycomb-like structure comprising a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, possesses exceptional qualities such as strong electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, and flexibility.

De Heer emphasizes the material’s robust nature, describing it as capable of handling large currents without heating up and falling apart.

Such characteristics make graphene an ideal candidate for pushing the limits of electronic devices beyond the capabilities of traditional materials like silicon.

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Two-Dimensional Structure:

Graphene is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Moreover, this two-dimensional structure gives it unique electrical, mechanical, and thermal properties.

Exceptional Electrical Conductivity:

Graphene is an excellent conductor of electricity. Electrons can move through the material with minimal resistance, making it highly suitable for electronic applications.

Mechanical Strength:

Despite being incredibly thin, graphene is exceptionally strong. It has a tensile strength over 100 times greater than that of steel, making it one of the strongest materials known.

Flexibility:

Graphene is not only strong but also flexible. This property makes it ideal for applications where flexibility is essential, such as flexible electronics and wearable devices.

High Thermal Conductivity:

Graphene exhibits excellent thermal conductivity, allowing it to efficiently dissipate heat. This property is beneficial for applications in electronics and thermal management.

Transparency:

Graphene is transparent, allowing light to pass through. Additionally, this property is advantageous for applications in transparent conductive films, touchscreens, and other optoelectronic devices.

Lightweight:

Graphene is an extremely lightweight material, which is advantageous in applications where weight is a critical factor.

Impermeability:

Graphene is impermeable to gases, even helium. This property has implications for applications in areas such as packaging and membranes.

Biocompatibility:

Graphene has shown biocompatibility, making it suitable for various biomedical applications, including drug delivery and biosensors.

Unique Quantum Mechanical Properties:

Graphene exhibits unique quantum mechanical behaviors, making it a fascinating material for researchers exploring applications in quantum computing and other quantum technologies.

Additionally, the combination of these extraordinary properties has led to graphene being hailed as a “wonder material” with the potential to revolutionize various industries, including electronics, materials science, energy, and healthcare.

Researchers continue to explore and develop new applications for graphene, leveraging its unique properties to create innovative technologies.

Semiconductor Revolution:

In the domain of graphene nanoelectronics, semiconducting graphene assumes a pivotal role owing to its intrinsic lack of a bandgap. Despite attempts spanning two decades to modify the bandgap, whether through quantum confinement or chemical functionalization, these endeavors have not yielded viable semiconducting graphene.

A recent breakthrough by a research team introduces semiconducting epigraphene (SEG) cultivated on single-crystal silicon carbide substrates, featuring a substantial band gap of 0.6 eV. Furthermore, SEG exhibits room temperature mobilities surpassing 5,000 cm2 V−1 s−1, surpassing silicon’s mobility by tenfold and outperforming other two-dimensional semiconductors by twentyfold.

The process involves the controlled evaporation of silicon from silicon carbide crystal surfaces, resulting in the crystallization of a graphene multilayer. Additionally,the initial graphitic layer formed on the silicon-terminated face of SiC is an insulating epigraphene layer partially covalently bonded to the SiC surface. Previous spectroscopic measurements of this buffer layer indicated semiconducting characteristics, albeit with limited mobilities due to disorder.

The research team’s innovative quasi-equilibrium annealing method overcomes these limitations, producing SEG with well-ordered buffer layers on macroscopic atomically flat terraces. Additionally, the SEG lattice aligns with the SiC substrate, ensuring chemical, mechanical, and thermal robustness. Moreover, SEG can be seamlessly integrated into nanoelectronics applications through patterning and conventional semiconductor fabrication techniques, providing essential properties for advanced electronic devices.

Innovative Material Development:


The researchers achieved this groundbreaking feat by developing a method to grow graphene on silicon carbide wafers using specialized furnaces.

This process resulted in the formation of epitaxial graphene—a single layer clinging to the crystal face of silicon carbide. Additionally, through extensive testing, the researchers demonstrated that epitaxial graphene chemically binds to silicon carbide, exhibiting semiconducting characteristics.

Furthermore, the team utilized doping techniques to test the material’s conductivity, revealing that the graphene semiconductor possesses 10 times the mobility of silicon.

Overcoming Band Gap Challenges:


One of the primary challenges in graphene research has been the absence of a “band gap,” a critical electronic feature essential for semiconductors to switch on and off effectively.

Without a band gap, graphene couldn’t meet the requirements for electronic performance. Lei Ma, director of Tianjin International Center for Nanoparticles and Nanosystems at Tianjin University in China, a co-author of the study, highlighted the long-standing problem in graphene electronics.

“A long-standing problem in graphene electronics is that graphene didn’t have the right band gap and couldn’t switch on and off at the correct ratio. Over the years, many have tried to address this with a variety of methods. Our technology achieves the band gap and is a crucial step in realizing graphene-based electronics,”

~Lei Ma, director of Tianjin International Center for Nanoparticles and Nanosystems at Tianjin University in China

The team’s innovative approach addressed this challenge, achieving the necessary band gap and paving the way for graphene-based electronics.

Read the Nature Paper here

Conclusion:


Published in the journal Nature on January 3, this groundbreaking research by the Georgia Institute of Technology marks a paradigm shift in the field of electronics.

The world’s first functional graphene semiconductor not only addresses the limitations of traditional silicon but also opens up new possibilities for harnessing the extraordinary capabilities of graphene in future electronic technologies.

This achievement, likened to a “Wright brothers moment” by Walter de Heer, propels us into a new era where graphene’s potential in advancing electronic devices is just beginning to unfold.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
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