IBM details world's fastest graphene transistor

The researchers' discoveries and work could lead to commercial-scale production of the chips

The molecular structure of graphene

The molecular structure of graphene

Thanks to a change in recipe, IBM has created a graphene-based processor that can execute 100 billion cycles per second (100GHz), almost four times the speed of previous experimental graphene chips.

With this research, IBM has also shown that graphene-based transistors can be produced by the wafer, which could pave the way for commercial-scale production of graphene chips, said Yu–Ming Lin, the IBM researcher who led the work.

If commercialized, such graphene processors could be the basis of superior signal processing componentry, improving the fidelity of audio and video recording, radar processing and medical imaging.

IBM conducted the work on behalf of the U.S. Defense Department's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), under a program to develop high-performance RF (radio frequency) transistors. A write-up of the results has been published in the Feb. 5 issue of Science.

Graphene, a single-atom-thick honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms, can transport electrons more quickly than other semiconductors, a quality called electron mobility. "That makes graphene a promising material for high-speed or high-frequency electronic components," Lin said.

This prototype processor was created on a 2-inch wafer, though in principle it could be done on even larger wafers, which should bring the production costs down, Lin said. Graphene is produced by heating a silicon carbide wafer, allowing the silicon to evaporate.

Until now, the downside of graphene has been that it is very sensitive to the environment. During the fabrication process, an oxide layer is deposited over the graphene to form the gate insulator. Typically, this deposition degrades the graphene's electron mobility, due to defects in the oxide that scatter electrons in the graphene. The IBM researchers minimized the damage by separating the graphene from the oxide with a very thin polymer layer.

This new approach has been instrumental in allowing the researchers to almost quadruple the frequency of graphene chips. Last year, research teams from IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology both demonstrated graphene processors capable of frequencies around 26GHz. By comparison, silicon-based transistors of the same gate length (240 nanometers) have only been able to scale up to a clock rate of 40Ghz or so.

It also sets the stage for commercial production. The research shows that "high-quality graphene can be produced on a wafer scale, and graphene transistors can be fabricated with those processes used in the semiconductor industries," Lin said.

Lin cautioned against thinking of graphene as a substitute for the silicon-based microprocessors used in today's computers, at least at anytime in the near future. One major roadblock is that graphene does not work easily with discrete electronic signals, he explained. Because graphene is a zero bandgap semiconductor, meaning there is no energy difference between its conductive and nonconductive states, transistors made of the semiconductor cannot be turned on and off. In contrast, silicon has a bandgap of one electron volt, making it good for processing discrete digital signals, Lin said.

Instead, graphene is better suited for making analog transistors, such as signal processors and amplifiers. Today, such circuitry is largely made from GaAs (gallium arsenide), though GaAs offers nowhere near the same electron mobility, Lin said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags IBMmicroprocessors

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?