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Graphene Gains on Silicon's Heels


Silicon, the single element most associated with electronics, may have some new competition. Known as graphene, the one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms has some not-insignificant physical properties that make it suitable for electronic purposes. However, unlike silicon, the electrons in graphene flow continuously, meaning that it can't be turned off to generate the 0s and 1s that are the foundation of computing.

With silicon, “Boolean logic” is used to process information by encoding and processing it as a series of 0s and 1s. When electrons are flowing, a computer records a 1, and when they are not flowing a 0 is recorded. Since silicon has the ability to turn electrons on or off, Boolean logic works well. However, Boolean logic does not work with graphene since the electrons flow continuously and are unable to stop.

Many researchers in the past have tried to modify graphene to help it surpass silicon in the electronics field, although their efforts have been futile. But researchers at the University of California-Riverside believe that they’ve found a solution to the problem once and for all.

“We decided to take an alternative approach,” said Alexander Balandin, Electrical Engineering Professor. “Instead of trying to change graphene, we changed the way the information is processed in the circuits.”

To tackle this problem, researchers from the University of California-Riverside decided to invent a new kind of logic that works with graphene. By manipulating voltage, it doesn’t matter if the electrons are turned on or off. The change in voltage indicates different values instead of flowing or non-flowing electrons.

The researchers were able to show that their system worked at both the microscopic and nanometer scales.

If the switch to graphene takes off, it could be very beneficial in many areas, one in particular being the usage of transistors—perhaps the single component that's most restricted by Moore's Law. By using graphene, the transistors could be made only an atom wide, which equates to more transistors and more computing power.

Since Boolean logic is used in many of the computing applications that we use on a day-to-day basis, the switch to using the new logic may be a difficult one. However, research is being done to see how graphene can be used in other areas. So one way or another, it may very well become a part of manufacturers' future.

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