Stanford chemists have developed a new way to make transistors out of carbon nanoribbons. The devices could someday be integrated into high-performance computer chips to increase their speed and generate less heat, which can damage today's silicon-based chips when transistors are packed together tightly.
For the first time, a research team led by Hongjie Dai, the J. G. Jackson and C. J. Wood Professor of Chemistry, has made transistors called "field-effect transistors"-a critical component of computer chips-with graphene that can operate at room temperature. Graphene is a form of carbon derived from graphite. Other graphene transistors, made with wider nanoribbons or thin films, require much lower temperatures.
"For graphene transistors, previous demonstrations of field-effect transistors were all done at liquid helium temperature, which is 4 Kelvin [-452 Fahrenheit]," said Dai, the lead investigator. His group's work is described in a paper published online in the May 23 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
The Dai group succeeded in making graphene nanoribbons less than 10 nanometers wide, which allows them to operate at higher temperatures. "People had not been able to make graphene nanoribbons narrow enough to allow the transistors to work at higher temperatures until now," Dai said. Using a chemical process developed by his group and described in a paper in the Feb. 29 issue of Science, the researchers have made nanoribbons, strips of carbon 50,000-times thinner than a human hair, that are smoother and narrower than nanoribbons made through other techniques.
Field-effect transistors are the key elements of computer chips, acting as data carriers from one place to another. They are composed of a semiconductor channel sandwiched between two metal electrodes. In the presence of an electric field, a charged metal plate can draw positive and negative charges in and out of the semiconductor. This allows the electric c
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