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Posted: May 20, 2009
$1.5 million grant to explore how graphene can replace silicon in microchips
(Nanowerk News) Silicon has been the main ingredient in microchips since they replaced vacuum tubes in electronics. But the common element graphene, found in pencils, may one day supplant silicon on the billion-dollar foundries of IBM, Intel and AMD.
The U.S. Department of Defense announced May 8 that a Cornell team led by professor of electrical and computer engineering Michael Spencer will share a $1.5 million, five-year grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to fabricate graphene, a one-atom thick layer of carbon, in large sheets suitable for use in microchips. Seven Columbia faculty members, including lead investigator Richard Osgood Jr., will work with Cornell researchers Spencer, Farhan Rana, Edwin Kan and Sandip Tiwari, all in electrical and computer engineering, and Paul McEuen, physics.
Graphene shares the characteristics that make silicon so ubiquitous, not just in computers and cell phones, but in such applications as medical and aviation sensors, ultrahigh-frequency analog electronics for preparing signals for fiber-optic transmission or for radars. Graphene can do what silicon can, only better.
"Graphene has extraordinary electron-transport properties; its monolayer thickness yields exquisite sensitivity to changes in environment, and its mechanical and thermal properties equal or exceed those of the best conventional materials," said Spencer. "The superior properties of graphene and graphene-related materials present an extraordinary opportunity for enabling new classes of electronic, optoelectronic and electromechanical devices and sensors."
But graphene's properties are not fully understood, and producing large sheets on a suitable underlying layer is extremely difficult. The Cornell-Columbia collaboration will work to develop new growth and fabrication technologies for graphene and improve understanding of its critical underlying physical properties to enable novel device concepts.
The research will focus on three types of advanced electronic and nanoscale electromechanical devices that illustrate the potential for new or dramatically enhanced functionality.
"We will collaborate with industry and the Air Force to gain their insight into the needs of government and industry," said Osgood. "By exploiting the unique properties of graphene, we can create new classes of devices that push existing technological boundaries."