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Scientists find new way to grow graphene: Future of electronics?

A team of scientists has discovered a new way to grow graphene, enabling the material to be used in electronic devices.

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Russian-born scientist Andre Geim in Manchester, May 29, 2009. Geim and Konstantin Novoselov shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics for showing how carbon just one atom thick behaved, a discovery with profound implications from quantum physics to consumer electronics. One hundred times stronger than steel, graphene is a new form of carbon that is both the thinnest and toughest material known.

Koerber-Stiftung/Friedrun Reinhold/Reuters

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The next generation of electronics could be faster and more energy-efficient than ever, thanks to a group of engineers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who have discovered a new way to grow graphene. 

Graphene is an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms that conducts electricity and dissipates heat much more efficiently than silicon, which is the material most commonly used today in computer chips. But in order to take full advantage of graphene’s electronic potential, the material must be in the form of ultra-narrow strips, or nanoribbons, that are less than 10 nanometers wide. 

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In the past, scientists have struggled to fabricate the material into nanoribbons that are narrow enough to be used in high-performance semiconductor electronics.

Now, a team of engineers has found a way to grow graphene nanoribbons with desirable semiconducting properties directly on a conventional germanium semiconductor wafer. This could enable manufacturers to use graphene nanoribbons in hybrid integrated circuits, which scientists say could significantly enhance the performance of electronic devices in the future. 

The technology could also have industrial and military uses, such as sensors that detect specific chemical and biological species and photonic devices that manipulate light, according to a press release from the university. 

In a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, professor Michael Arnold and his team of researchers describe how their growing technique can be used for mass production and is compatible with the existing infrastructure used in semiconductor processing. 

"Graphene nanoribbons that can be grown directly on the surface of a semiconductor like germanium are more compatible with planar processing that's used in the semiconductor industry, and so there would be less of a barrier to integrating these really excellent materials into electronics in the future," Professor Arnold said in a statement

According to Arnold, the team will continue to work on controlling where the ribbons start growing and aligning them all in the same direction.