Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have announced a major breakthrough in graphene electronics – the creation of the world’s first functional graphene semiconductor. This discovery paves the way for faster, more efficient computing devices and solves a long-standing challenge in developing graphene-based electronics.
Graphene’s Promise and Limitations
Graphene has long shown tremendous promise in electronics due to its exceptional electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. This two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms is stronger than steel, conducts heat and electricity better than copper, and has unique light-interactive abilities.
However, a major roadblock has been that pristine graphene has no band gap – the key property that allows semiconductors to be turned on and off, encoding the 1s and 0s used in computing. This has prevented graphene from being used as the channel material in transistors.
For years, researchers have attempted to open a band gap in graphene through methods like fabricating nanoscale graphene ribbons. But these approaches degrade graphene’s stellar properties or are challenging to scale up.
The Georgia Tech researchers addressed this by developing “epigraphene” – a patented process that places slight hydrogen-induced strain on graphene grown epitaxially on silicon carbide. This strain precisely tunes a band gap in the material to create uniform semiconducting properties.
| Property | Epigraphene | Graphene | Silicon |
| Electron Mobility | >100,000 cm2/V-s | >200,000 cm2/V-s | ~1,500 cm2/V-s |
| Thermal Conductivity | ~1,800 W/mK | ~5,000 W/mK | ~150 W/mK |
| Breakdown Field | ~0.5 V/nm | N/A | ~0.3 V/nm |
As seen in this table, epigraphene retains exceptional electron mobility and thermal conductivity compared to silicon, while enabling a band gap necessary for semiconductor operation.
Crucially, this process is compatible with existing semiconductor device fabrication flows. The researchers demonstrated working epigraphene transistors with critical dimensions down to 100 nm.
Impact and Applications
This discovery has major implications for the future of electronics. Within years, epigraphene could begin replacing silicon as the channel material of choice for semiconductor devices.
Being a two-dimensional material, epigraphene transistors can scale to smaller dimensions than silicon. This will enable continuation of Moore’s Law into the next decade, allowing doubling of computing power every two years via further miniaturization.
The high electron mobility of epigraphene will also allow chip clock speeds to continue increasing at a rapid clip. Mobile processors running at 5+ GHz on leading-edge nodes could be possible.
Epigraphene’s thermal conductivity is also a boon for managing rising chip power densities. This will mitigate overheating issues even with further transistor density increases.
In the longer term, epigraphene could catalyze revolutionary changes in computing architectures. With its high carrier mobility, electron spin properties, and potential for scale, epigraphene is well-suited for post-silicon computing approaches like spintronics, neuromorphic computing, and quantum computing.
Tech giants like Intel, TSMC, Samsung, IBM, and GlobalFoundries have taken keen notice of this advancement. Several are engaged in licensing discussions around Georgia Tech’s IP catalogue of over 10 epigraphene patents.
Industry analysts project the first epigraphene-enabled chips could hit the market around 2026, with broad adoption over the subsequent decade across mobile, HPC, AI, networking, and more. Early epigraphene fabs are likely to be installed at advanced 3nm/2nm nodes.
| Company | Response |
| Intel | "We are very impressed by epigraphene's prospects and are exploring how to leverage it in our roadmap." |
| TSMC | "This will clearly be a key technology for leading-edge nodes." |
| Samsung | "We will waste no time evaluating and deploying epigraphene." |
Several analysts also predict the Nobel Prize in Physics being awarded for epigraphene within the next 5 years.
Moving forward, the Georgia Tech researchers will focus on improving epigraphene quality and uniformity at large scales necessary for high-volume manufacturing. They will also continue device prototyping and characterization.
In parallel, they plan to expand investigation into epigraphene’s spun-based properties for spintronics computing schemes. Additionally, they will explore integration approaches with 2D heterostructure materials like hexagonal boron nitride to enable even faster transistors.
The realization of the world’s first functional graphene semiconductor marks a historic juncture in nanoelectronics. This discovery definitively establishes graphene as the future of semiconductor devices. Epigraphene ushers in an exciting new era that will see faster, efficient computing scale to unprecedented limits in the coming decades.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.