Scientists have created the first functional semiconductor from graphene — it has the potential to replace silicon

Georgia Tech scientists claim to have created » the world's first functional semiconductor made from graphene «. The epitaxial graphene they created is compatible with traditional microelectronics manufacturing methods, making it a viable alternative to silicon.

Image source: Georgia Tech

Technology experts constantly point out the need to preserve the possibility of using Moore's Law in electronics production.. However, one of the key challenges facing those pushing the semiconductor industry forward is that the physical properties of silicon are approaching their limits.. On the other hand, graphene has been constantly touted since its discovery in 2004 as a miracle material that will solve all the problems associated with the production of semiconductors in the future. However, attempts to use it have not yet contributed to any significant or widespread technological breakthrough.. However, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology appear to have actually taken a significant step forward in this matter by combining purified epitaxial graphene with silicon carbide in a semiconductor.

The research is being conducted by a group of scientists from the USA and China under the leadership of Walter de Heer, a professor of physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.. De Heer has been working on 2D graphene technologies since the early 2000s.

“We were motivated by the hope of introducing three special properties of graphene into electronics.. This is an extremely durable material that can withstand very high currents without heating up or collapsing,” comments the scientist.

However, despite these three properties, a key semiconductor characteristic has been missing from graphene-based materials until now.. “A long-standing problem in graphene electronics is that graphene does not have the correct bandgap and cannot switch on and off, that is, change from one state to another, in the correct ratio,” says nanoparticle and nanosystems specialist Dr. Lei Ma Ma, a colleague of de Heer's at Tianjin University International Center, who is also a co-author of the paper «Ultra-high-mobility semiconductor epitaxial graphene on silicon carbide,» published in Nature.

The researchers explain that they have found a way to grow graphene on silicon carbide wafers using special furnaces, resulting in epitaxial graphene combined with silicon carbide. According to the official Georgia Tech blog, the material took a decade to perfect.. Its current tests show that the graphene-based semiconductor material exhibits ten times greater electron mobility than silicon.

“In other words, electrons in the material move with very low resistance, which in electronics leads to faster calculations,” the institute’s press release explains.

De Heer explains the appeal of graphene-based electronics in simpler terms: “ It's like driving on a freeway instead of a gravel road.”. It [graphene-based material] is more efficient, does not heat up as much, and allows electrons to reach higher speeds.»

The scientists say their epitaxial graphene combined with silicon carbide is far superior to any other 2D semiconductor in development.. Professor de Heer described his team's breakthrough in semiconductor materials as a «Wright Brothers moment» and also emphasized the material's compatibility with the quantum mechanical wave properties of electrons. In other words, it could play an important role in future advances in quantum computing.