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Categoria // Graphene, ICT and Digital Technologies

Do you remember the “transistor radio”? Today graphene offers unique electronic properties that derive from its two-dimensional structure and extremely high electric conductivity. This makes it an ideal base for a future generation of smaller, more powerful, and faster electronic devices.

radio a transistor
Radio a transistor

In 1965 Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, assumed that the number of transistors – the most common electronic devices, as well as crucial components of chip-based processors – would double every 24 months or so. This increase would result into constantly improved processor performance. Moore’s law, which still applies today, was reviewed in the late 1980s, and finally phrased as follows: the number of electronic components per chip doubles every 18 months.

The technological innovation that brought about the significant enhancement of computer performance in the past few decades could have come to an end, not least because silicon has almost reached its physical scale limits.

Existing silicon-based computer processors can only perform a limited number of operations per second, because electrons cannot move quickly enough in silicon. Graphene could be the optimal solution to develop next generation microprocessors and thus overcome the limits of the silicon-based technology.

Made up of a one-atom layer of carbon (i.e. one atom thick), graphene has first and foremost unique electronic properties, which actually derive from its two-dimensional structure. Graphene has an extremely high electric conductivity, which makes it the ideal base for a future generation of transistors: graphene-based devices could be much smaller (thus allowing to achieve physical scale limits), more powerful, and faster.

Graphene is currently studied as an alternative to silicon for transistor manufacturing. The electrons moving along a graphene surface have a very high mobility (about 100 times higher than silicon) and would allow to build very low resistance transistors, resulting in high operation speed of the device.

Moreover graphene is a good thermal conductor, allowing quick dispersion of any generated heat. For these and other properties (including, among others, high mechanical resistance), graphene-based electronics can reach much higher speeds. While at present the performance of silicon cannot exceed one gigahertz, graphene would allow to reach one-thousand gigahertz.

A sheet of graphene can be rolled up to obtain carbon nanotubes with the same excellent electronic properties as graphene. This is another example of carbon-based nanomaterial, also designed for electronic applications. These materials have the same high mobility of graphene and therefore result into high-performance nanotube-based electronic devices.

Studies carried out in Italy by several research teams, including one headed by Dr. Roman Sordan of the Como section of the Milan Polytechnic University, on the use of graphene in electronics resulted into high technological innovation. This team developed the first graphene-based logic gates (the main digital circuit units in microprocessors), the first graphene-based integrated circuit, and other graphene-based devices, such as memory cells.

The opportunity to use graphene to overcome the physical limits of silicon and therefore continue – as predicted by Moore – to miniaturize electronic components will have huge impacts in all fields, reducing consumption and waste in favour of human and environmental health.


Luisa Nicoletti
Published on Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Luisa Nicoletti


Martedì, 05 Aprile 2011


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