According to a report by IT House on January 4th, a research team has recently created the world’s first functional semiconductor constructed from graphene. This groundbreaking discovery is detailed in a paper entitled “Ultrahigh-mobility semiconducting epitaxial graphene on silicon carbide,” which was published in the renowned journal, Nature.
The study was conducted mainly by a team from Tianjin University in China, with contributors from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the U.S., countering the online rumors of the study being led by foreign universities. The first indications of these findings came to light in the latter half of 2021, with the article being composed in 2022. Researchers were guided by Walt A. de Heer, one of the co-authors of the paper, with the Chinese team, led by Ma Lei, Executive Director of the International Research Center for Nanoparticles and Nanosystems at Tianjin University, undertaking the bulk of the research.
This breakthrough comes at a crucial time, as most electronic devices today are made from silicon, which is nearing its limit as computational speed increases and device size continues to shrink. Compared to traditional silicon semiconductors, graphene-based semiconductors have many advantages; they are compatible with existing microelectronic fabrication processes and represent a viable alternative to silicon.
The team achieved a breakthrough by successfully growing graphene on silicon carbide chips using a special furnace. Their method created epitaxial graphene, a layer of graphene that grows on the surface of a silicon carbide crystal. The research revealed that when epitaxial graphene is properly prepared, it forms a chemical bond with the silicon carbide and begins to form a semiconductor.
The team’s measurements indicated that the mobility of their graphene semiconductor is ten times that of silicon, which means that electrons move with very low resistance in this material. In electronics, this translates to faster computational speeds.
However, Ma Lei expressed caution, saying that it would be a far-off day when this research could be practically applied in an industrial setting. According to Ma, it may take an estimated “10 to 15 years to see the full implementation of graphene semiconductors.” Currently, he and his team are working on growing graphene semiconductors on larger-sized silicon carbide substrates.