IBM scientists may have developed world’s most advanced graphene chip

30 Jan 2014

Tech giant IBM has made a major step toward the future of microchip technology by creating and testing what may be the most advanced graphene chip to date.

Research by a team led by carbon research scientist Shu-Jen Han can potentially make all our devices, from smartphones to TVs, 10,000 times faster than current silicon microchips.

Graphene is considered the next wonder material, akin to aluminium and silicon were in the past, and is expected to gradually become the standard material in many of our household items.

The material consists of a flexible single layer of carbon atoms packed in a honeycomb structure. More importantly, its electrical, optical, mechanical and thermal properties make it well-suited for wireless, or RF, communications.

A small step into the future

The test the team carried out to see whether the material could perform in forming a circuit involved a basic text message reading “I-B-M” being sent and received by another device. While this may not seem like a monumental achievement, to send a piece of information phones have been sending for decades, it is a considerable achievement for the team.

Up until now, the team had been struggling to put a chip together, let alone transmit information. In IBM Labs’ blog post, the team explained why: “Fabrication of a true integrated circuit is challenging because it’s easy to damage a sheet of graphene during the fabrication flow of conventional integrated circuits.”

“So, while we had shown it was possible to build an analog graphene integrated circuit with a broadband frequency mixer in a 2011 proof of concept, the graphene transistor performance was inevitably degraded due to the harsh fabrication processes.” 

The major problem with producing graphene on a mass scale at this point in time is cost.

However, while the price is currently prohibitively expensive for most consumer products, the price of the material is expected to nose dive in the next 20 years.

Graphene image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic