An international team of researchers has created the first transistor made from the thinnest form of silicon, silicene.
Five years ago, silicene was no more than a theory. The human-made silicon is only atom-thick but according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, that theory has now moved forward to being made into a transistor. The excitement behind silicene is understandable as its electric properties could dramatically make computer chips faster, smaller and more efficient according to computer engineer Deji Akinwande and his team.
The team’s findings were recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“Apart from introducing a new player in the playground of two-dimensional materials, silicene, with its close chemical affinity to silicon, suggests an opportunity in the road map of the semiconductor industry,” said Dr. Akinwande.
In addition to increasing efficiency with faster and smaller chips, the real breakthrough according to Akinwande “is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time.” The structure of silicene is such that electrons will be able to make their way through the circuit without encountering any obstacles that would slow them down.
The production of a circuit using silicene had proved elusive as its size makes it very difficult to work with an is difficult to produce. Graphene, another material that holds promise in the semi-conductor field, is made from carbon and is stable when exposed to air unlike the volatile silicene.
Protecting silicene from the air
The unstable nature of silicene when exposed to air forced the researchers to sandwich it between a layer of silver and a layer of alumina. Alumina is aluminum oxide which is found in precious gems and other rocks. Once it was protected from the air, Akinwande’s team moved it tow a silicon dioxide wafer with the silver side up, they then scraped the silver side to produce to electrical contacts effectively creating a transistor.
While this method of production is certainly not viable commercially, it is an important first step on the way to a potential breakthrough. The team will now shift its work to finding other means of production and they will surely not be alone after their findings.