PORTLAND, Ore.—Carbon sheets—graphene—can conduct electricity up to a million times better than conventional silicon pathways on microchips, making them a strong candidate for future on-chip interconnection layers. To use graphene as a semiconductor, however, requires opening a bandgap across which electrons must jump, thereby enabling the switching operations of a digital computer. Now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) claims to have discovered a simple method of opening a bandgap in graphene with water.
What's more, by controlling the amount of humidity inside chip packages, RPI researchers showed that graphene's bandgap could be tuned for specific applications.
The bandgap of a material is measured from the bottom of the valence band (containing electrons bound in close orbits to the atom) to the top of the conduction band (where free electrons orbit). In pure conductors, like copper wires, the two bands have no gap as any electron is up for grabs when a voltage potential presents itself. For pure insulators, the bands are separated by a huge gap that can only be bridged by exceeding the breakdown voltage of the material. In between is the semiconducting region, where there is a reluctance for electrons to cross the band, allowing the switching mechanisms that make digital electronics work.
IBM reported earlier this year that its dual-gate bi-layer graphene architecture could effectively open a bandgap of .13 electron volts (eV), but RPI professor Nikhil Koratkar's team was able to open a bandgap of .2 eV with simple water vapor. In addition, the RPI team reports tuning the bandgap of graphene anywhere from 0 (a pure metallic conductor) all the way to .2 eV (a semiconductor suitable for infrared detectors) by simply controlling the amount of humidity. The team claims its method of tuning the bandgap of graphene will allow optimization for specific applications by trapping a precise amount of humidity inside a chip package.
Chip-packaging technologies, according to Koratkar, should allow chip makers "to construct a small enclosure around certain parts or the entirety of a computer chip in which it would be quite easy to control the level of humidity."
A graphene film on a silicon dioxide substrate is being electrically tested using a four-point probe.
Other members of Koratkar's team included professor Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc and doctoral candidate Fazel Yavari from RPI, and from Rice University professor Pulickel Ajayan, postdoctoral research fellow Li Song and doctoral candidate Hemtej Gulapalli.
Funding for the project was provided by the Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES).
To: @corradini. You are absolutely right the band-gap is a distance from the top of the valence band to the bottom of the conduction band...this research shows that presence of moisture modifies crystalline structure and changes the band-gap...whether that effect can be exploited practically is another story...Kris
Ummm....I'm not an EE, or physicist, or anything remotely similar and thus qualified to hit the "oops" buzzer, here (I just think stuff up and try to make it ;-) BUT: isn't bandgap actually the 'distance' (in eV) from the TOP of the valence band to the BOTTOM of the conduction band?
indeed an exciting article and with 2010 nobel prize to graphene, this is surely an exciting time for the researchers working in this area. i wonder what are the main challenges and difficulties to open a wider bandgap in graphene?
Now I see how that is supposed to be used in computers. I heard that once this technology is mature, it'll make computers faster than ever. I wonder if that "a million time better" sentence in the first paragraph comes out from a hard number or just an expression.
If conductivity is the only benefit of graphene inside chips that would mean that the IC's would become much more energy efficient... thus... lower heat dissipation, and such can reflect in the processing power of the chips.
Did you hear that the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize wan the 2004 Ig Nobel too?... Goggle it.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.