Chip Off a New Block

TECHNOLOGY

Researchers at IBM have demonstrated the most advanced integrated circuit made of graphene—a two-dimensional “wonder material” that could revolutionize electronics. (BBC)

Use our materials to see how scientists are experimenting with graphene and other nanomaterials.

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon. Allotropes are different molecular forms of the same element. The most familiar carbon allotropes are probably diamond and graphite. Graphene is an atom-thick lattice of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal, honeycomb-shaped pattern nicknamed "chicken wire." Illustration by Mpfiz, courtesy Wikimedia. I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon. Allotropes are different molecular forms of the same element. The most familiar carbon allotropes are probably diamond and graphite—the highest grade of coal. Graphene is an atom-thick lattice of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal, honeycomb-shaped pattern nicknamed “chicken wire.”
Illustration by Mpfiz, courtesy Wikimedia. I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.

Discussion Ideas

  • The scientists profiled in the BBC article are creating a new type of integrated circuit. What is an integrated circuit, and how is this one different?
    • An integrated circuit (IC) is also known as a microchip or, simply, a chip. An IC is a set of electronic components on a single plate (chip) of semiconductor material. The semiconductor conducts electricity throughout the chip.
    • IBM’s new IC is different in that the chip—the semiconductor—is made of graphene. The semiconductor material in most chips is made of silicon.
    • IBM and other labs have actually experimented with graphene chips for years—the real breakthrough here is the manufacturing process, which as made the chip 10,000 times faster and more durable than previous efforts.
    • Click here for a look at the new graphene microchip.
  • Right now, the production of graphene-based integrated circuits is purely experimental. Read this blog post from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. What are the two major hurdles to the mass production of graphene chips to compete with silicon chips?
    • Production of the graphene itself is expensive. If the material could be produced in bulk (what the article calls a “roll-to-roll process”), graphene chips might be affordable for manufacturers and consumers.
    • Graphene chips have been far too fragile and delicate to produce on a bulk scale. IBM’s new IC technology addresses this issue. The new process adds the atom-thick graphene “late in the process, to prevent it from being damaged during other manufacturing steps.”
  • Watch our video “Experience Nano,” or read our encyclopedic entry on nanotechnology. What are other potential uses for graphene, carbon nanotubes (made from rolled-up sheets of graphene), and other carbon-based nanomaterials?
    • From the video:
      • Graphene is an excellent water filter. One scientist in the video says “There should never be a need for a poor child . . . who is living within a quarter-mile of an ocean to have to struggle for clean water.”
      • Graphene and nanotubes hold enormous promise in the fields of medical research. The video mentions development of an injected material able to filter out toxins from blood, or nanotubes able to immediately begin repair on broken bones or ruptured tissue.
      • Graphene materials could be used to build aircraft. The “skin” of the aircraft could hold sensors and store energy, making the aircraft lighter and smaller. This could change air transportation, freeing space in a plane’s interior. It could also revolutionize unmanned “drone” aircraft, most often used in the defense industry and scientific data collection.
    • From the encyclopedic entry (in addition to the uses named in the video):

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s