Advances by the Rice University lab of James Tour have brought graphite's potential as a mass data storage medium a step closer to reality and created the potential for reprogrammable gate arrays that could bring about a revolution in integrated circuit logic design.
In a paper published in the online journal ACS Nano, Tour and postdoctoral associate Alexander Sinitskii show how they've used industry-standard lithographic techniques to deposit 10-nanometer stripes of amorphous graphite, the carbon-based, semiconducting material commonly found in pencils, onto silicon. This facilitates the creation of potentially very dense, very stable nonvolatile memory for all kinds of digital devices.
With backing from a major manufacturer of memory chips, Tour and his team have pushed the technology forward in several ways since a paper that appeared last November first described two-terminal graphitic memory. While noting advances in other molecular computing techniques that involve nanotubes or quantum dots, he said none of those have yet proved practical in terms of fabrication.
Not so with this simple-to-deposit graphite. "We're using chemical vapor deposition and lithography -- techniques the industry understands," said Tour, Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry and a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science. "That makes this a good alternative to our previous carbon-coated nanocable devices, which perform well but are very difficult to manufacture."
Graphite makes a good, reliable memory "bit" for reasons that aren't yet fully understood. The lab found that running a current through a 10-atom-thick layer of graphite creates a complete break in the circuit -- literally, a gap in the strip a couple of nanometers wide. Another jolt repairs the break. The process appears to be indefinitely repeatable, which provides addressable ones and zeroes, just like today's flash memory devices but at
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