In computers, the need for speed seems insatiable. Now, researchers have shown that a sheet of graphite one single atom thick conducts electrons with far less resistance at room temperature than any material known. As a conductor of electricity, the material, dubbed graphene, beats out its nearest competitor, copper, by 35 percent.
The team, led by Michael Fuhrer, with the University of Maryland's Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials, also found that when used as a semiconductor – the basis for transistors and computer chips – graphene allows electrons far higher mobility, another key trait, than the previous record-holder, indium antimonide. Mobility determines how quickly a transistor made of the material can be switched on or off.
The team says graphene could lead to a new generation of smaller, faster computers. But first the right material on which to lay the graphene must be found. Electrical properties in these "substrates" can undercut graphene's advantages. The research appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.