It’s been almost 70 years since the invention of the silicon transistor, which is at the heart of modern semiconductor technology. Over the decades, engineers have managed to shrink those devices exponentially so that tens of millions of transistors are now squeezed onto a single chip.
However, as the technology continues to evolve, future electronics will demand even more computing power coupled with other properties, like low energy consumption. Silicon transistors likely won’t be able keep up forever, meaning researchers need to develop better materials.
One promising alternative is graphene nanoribbons, which are thin strips made of the two-dimensional wonder material graphene. They are versatile semiconductors with the potential to outperform silicon.
Michael Arnold, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his collaborators have previously demonstrated that wafer-scale production of graphene nanoribbons is possible on commercial silicon/germanium wafers.
However, integrating graphene nanoribbons in commercial semiconductor devices poses several formidable materials science challenges. In a perspective article published in the March 3, 2020, issue of the journal ACS Nano, Arnold, recent PhD graduate Vivek Saraswat and postdoctoral researcher Robert Jacobberger laid out a research roadmap for overcoming these challenges.
The team proposed several materials science solutions to existing problems in graphene nanoribbon devices. The researchers also described numerous exciting ideas based on unconventional electronics such as quantum computing, spintronics and monolithic three-dimensional integration that might be possible using graphene nanoribbons, unlocking their tremendous potential in future nanoelectronics.
“Graphene nanoribbons could be the key to unlocking a whole new generation of electronic devices due to a unique combination of several desirable properties such as atomic thinness, chemical stability, ultra-high electron mobility, and existence of stable spin-polarized and exotic quantum topological states,” says Saraswat, who now works at Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon. “The applications of graphene nanoribbons are seemingly endless; it’s now up to scientists to find creative solutions to get these into practical devices. We hope this paper presents a guide to the research community on what needs attention.”
Michael Arnold is Beckwith-Bascom Professor in materials science and engineering at UW-Madison.
This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Sciences, Basic Energy Sciences under award no. DE-SC0016007.
Author: Jason Daley