Silicene may be the next revolutionary material for use in a wide range of material.
Computer transistors, just one atom thick, have been created by researchers using the new substance.
University of Texas researchers believe silicene may be used in the manufacture of a new generation of super-fast processors.
Graphene, layers of carbon atoms, possess electrical properties that could be used in the creation of electronic devices. Like that substance, silicene can also become the basis of next-generation computer chips. However, silicene is normally difficult and expensive to produce, as well as highly volatile in air, limiting its application in the devices. Researchers formed silicene for the transistors between layers of aluminum and silver.
"Apart from introducing a new player in the playground of 2-D materials, silicene, with its close chemical affinity to silicon, suggests an opportunity in the road map of the semiconductor industry. The major breakthrough here is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time," Deji Akinwande from the Cockrell School's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said.
Silicene transistors are the thinnest ever designed. An easy, inexpensive way of producing these devices has long been sought by designers of electronics. Akinwande also works with graphene, and it was that material which inspired him to develop the new transistors.
Transistors are essential to computers, amplifying and distributing power throughout processors.
To create the new transistors, silicone was vaporized, and allowed to condense on a sheet of silver, held in a vacuum chamber. This formed a layer of silicone atoms just one layer thick. An ultra-thin layer of alumina, synthetically-produced aluminum oxide, was then placed on top of the silicene. The target material was then carefully peeled off its base and placed, silver side down, on a plate of oxidized silicon. Some of the silver was removed from the sheet, producing a device with two electrodes, separated by the material.
Silicene transistors were tested while they were still in a vacuum, which is not practical for manufacture of processing chips. With further development, silicene could be used to create a new generation of faster, less expensive, computer processors.
It was just a few years ago that silicene was just a theoretical material. Now, the material has been used to create one of the basic devices within computers. The new devices may integrate with existing technologies than graphene-based transistors, and reaches switching speeds as high as those predicted by computer simulations.
Development of silicene transistors was detailed in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.