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IBM Breakthrough Finds Replacement For Silicon

Gordon Kelly


IBM Breakthrough Finds Replacement For Silicon

Here's something a bit more techie to wrap your brains around on a Monday morning: IBM has announced a significant breakthrough which may have just found the long term successor to silicon in chip technology...

Called 'graphene', it is - and I quote IBM here: "a single atom-thick layer of carbon atoms bonded in a hexagonal honeycomb-like arrangement. This two-dimensional form of carbon has unique electrical, optical, mechanical and thermal properties and its technological applications are being explored intensely."

Explored successfully too by the sound of things since IBM has confirmed tests with graphene have achieved the highest cut-off frequency ever recorded: 100 billion cycles per second, or 100GHz. To put this into some context, the highest cut-off frequency ever recorded for silicon is 40GHz. Furthermore, the breakthrough was achieved using standard silicon fabrication techniques so one material can simply be substituted for the other.

"A key advantage of graphene lies in the very high speeds in which electrons propagate, which is essential for achieving high-speed, high-performance next generation transistors," said Dr. T.C. Chen, VP of Science and Technology at IBM. "The breakthrough we are announcing demonstrates clearly that graphene can be utilized to produce high performance devices and integrated circuits."

And the good news doesn't end there. IBM claims not only was the graphene used obtained for natural resources (meaning no specific strain of graphene is required), but also that the tests were in no way stretching the limits of the material "leaving plenty of space for further optimization of its performance".

Naturally enough no time frame was put on the use of graphene in commercial products, but it is rather good to know that as we push the properties of silicon ever closer to breaking point we already look to have an heir apparent waiting in the wings. Hopefully this should delay the grey goo apocalypse a little longer...


Press Release

Image courtesy of newscom


February 8, 2010, 6:06 am

To carbon: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems!

The following sentence isn't clear: "IBM claims not only was the graphene used obtained for natural resources (meaning no specific strain of graphene is required)..." Are they saying it was originally destined for plant food?


February 8, 2010, 6:09 am

@Xiphias - errr, yes that's exactly what it means...

...I actually do explain it in that quote: "no specific strain of graphene is required". In other words, the IBM tests can be reproduced on any refined piece of graphene found naturally. It doesn't need to be a specific, specially created strain.


February 8, 2010, 6:12 am

I was telling somebody about this recently, graphene is simply graphite (pencil lead) that has been isolated into a single plane. Graphite has just a few bonds between planes, imagine a million hexagons (carbon atoms) stuck together and then a million more laid above with a few joins between, which is why it rubs off easily when you draw..

I hope eventually we see a leapfrog from the likes of IBM over Intel with this technology and its not left to Intel to drag its products out for as long as possible, slowing the pace of innovation..

It's also 200 times stronger than steel and the Koreans apparently have already made 30 inch wafers! There's also a few other potential uses but I don't want to ruin Gordon's future news story supply :-D


February 8, 2010, 6:15 am

@Gordon, I don't think you can find Graphene naturally, I think what they are saying in a slightly odd way is that you can use any of the currently available techniques (some are incredibly expensive) to refine graphene of a quality useful for mass production.

Here is my *ahem* source on that one..



February 8, 2010, 6:46 am

I suppose you unroll a buckytube for the base material. Go go carbon nanotech!

iain coghill

February 8, 2010, 2:43 pm

Graphine is naturally produced whenever you write with a pencil - tiny amounts of the graphite from the lead will slough off as graphine. You can also produce it by sticking sellotape over graphite and ripping it off like a band-aid, then repeating the process several times by sticking the sellotape over the sellotape. Neither of these methods will prove commercially viable I fear :(


February 8, 2010, 3:07 pm

This really is awesome news, thanks for reporting it.

I feel that there could be some sort of solution to global warming in this (ie an ability to extract excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or something), although it strains my brain to think of how exactly. I think that Xiphas paraphrased The Simpsons nicely though :)


February 8, 2010, 4:24 pm

Dontcha' jus love the marketing use of the term "natural"... As far as I can remember all things are *natural* apart form a few man made isotopes.

On topic, I think this is a wonderful opportunistic departure from silicon and Moore must be feeling like his law will be renewed for the unfolding century....


February 8, 2010, 5:49 pm

Anyone dare to guess when we'll see this kind of technology in commercial products? My guess would be at around 10 years from now. But to be honest, I have no idea how fast they'll be able to bring this to the market. Besides, they still have a lot of work to do in trying to optimize this transistor. It hardly even is a transistor, as it does not have the characteristic properties of a transistor.

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