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September 29th, 2007
Can graphene overtake silicon as the essential ingredient of computer chips?
"Graphene has always been before our eyes, but no one ever tried to look," says Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in England. A single-atom-thick, chicken wire web of carbon atoms, graphene forms the layers that stack up to make the graphite found in pencil lead and carbon soot.
Though promising, nanotubes have proved devilishly difficult to assemble into circuits. Nanotubes don't readily connect to one another, and attaching them to metal contacts creates spots where electrons tend to scatter, dissipating energy as heat.
Graphene, on the other hand, comes in sheets. It may be possible to etch graphene circuits, just as circuits are now etched into silicon wafers. Forming circuits from one sheet of graphene could be much easier than assembling them from nanotube pieces. "We want to be able to use the essential properties of carbon nanotubes in a material that can be patterned easily," says Walt de Heer of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "It could realize the dream people had of carbon-nanotube electronics."
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