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Chinese, US researchers develop semiconductor

By YANG CHENG in Tianjin | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-28 09:43

Researchers from Tianjin University and the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States have recently developed a new type of semiconductor using the material graphene, which could lead to the development of smaller, faster and more efficient electronics.

Their study, published on the website of the journal Nature on Jan 3, reports that graphene, a strong, flexible, lightweight sheet of carbon atoms, can perform 10 times better than silicon — the material from which virtually all electronic devices are made.

Without silicon semiconductors, the world's computers would not be able to function, as these components regulate the flow of electricity that computers need to perform. Semiconductors are needed to start cars, open doors on buses or trains and use electronics such as smartphones or laptops.

But silicon is reaching its limit as a viable material in electronics, leading scientists to search for an alternative.

Graphene may be the solution.

"It took us nearly eight years, beginning with work on epitaxial graphene on the non-polar face of silicon carbide — which was done in collaboration with Walter de Heer, the regents' professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology — for our team to make the groundbreaking discovery of a graphene semiconductor," said Ma Lei, executive director of the Tianjin International Center for Nanoparticles and Nanosystems of Tianjin University.

De Heer, in a news release, said: "Graphene is the next step. Who knows what the next steps are after that, but there's a good chance graphene could take over and be the paradigm for the next 50 years."

Graphene has long been seen as a possible alternative to silicon, which is becoming more difficult to use because electronics are getting smaller and the material requires a lot of energy to use. But the use of graphene also presented a major challenge, known as the "band gap" problem.

The band gap is the key function that allows semiconductors to be switched on and off to regulate electricity in an electronic device.

The function was not possible to achieve with graphene, until the Chinese and US researchers resolved the problem.

Experts have expressed excitement about the innovation.

Graphene semiconductors could be more powerful and use less energy than their silicon counterparts. This could provide a host of benefits for consumers. For example, the battery life for smartphones with graphene semiconductors could be much longer.

However, it may be another 10 to 15 years before graphene semiconductors can be widely used, Ma said.

Wang Xue, general manager of Tianjin Graphene Innovation Center, a non-governmental organization that promotes graphene innovation and business partnerships, said the industrialization of the semiconductors is confronted with challenges.

"In the actual business process, there is still a long way before industrialization. The biggest challenges lie in getting the industrial sector to realize the industrial value of graphene and in inspiring them to partner with the researchers to hasten the pace," she said.

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