Researchers at IBM have created the first integrated circuit using a graphene transistor. Graphene, first isolated in 2004, is a thin, highly conductive carbon film that has been touted as a potential replacement for silicon.
A mass-produced graphene transistor is a long way from the consumer market. The IBM circuit was designed as a proof-of-concept and not for commercial use. However, the circuit can handle frequencies up to 10 GHz, and its performance changes little based on temperature. It performed roughly the same between temperatures of 300 and 400 kelvins (roughly 27 degrees and 127 degrees Celsius).
“Ultimately, we should be able to go a lot faster,” IBM scientist Keith Jenkins told IEEE Spectrum’s Neil Savage, “This is not a limit at all.”
Researchers confronted two main problems in the creation of the graphene circuit. Since graphene is only one atom layer thick, the film is easily damaged by the semiconductor etching process. Scientists found a way around this by coating the graphene, allowing them to protect and remove it as necessary. The other problem was the ability to bind commonly used metals such as gold, aluminum and palladium to the thin graphene layer.
For a substance that was isolated less than 10 years ago, this new circuit has arrived relatively quickly, and the implications are particularly widespread. While IBM has mostly focused on graphene transistors in the transmission of radio signals, the incorporation of graphene into other consumer products, such as computers, could mean cellphones built into clothing, printable electronics and more efficient forms of energy storage.
The discovery comes as the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced plans to further clarify the roles that nanomaterials, including graphene, could play in consumer products and food production. The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears reported June 9 that the EPA announced plans to determine whether nanomaterials in pesticide products can “cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health,” while the FDA released draft guidelines to industries about when nanomaterial use would trigger regulatory interest.
In 2010, Russian-born researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize for their work with graphene. At the time, Joseph Stroscio, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said it could take five or 10 years before graphene would be incorporated into consumer products such as cellphones.
IBM’s creation of the graphene transistor was first reported in the journal Science.