In a scientific advance that could pave the way for faster computer chips in the future, engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have built the first transistors from an exotic form of silicon. Deji Akinwande and a team of researchers succeeded in working with the notoriously difficult material called silicene, a promising new material in the semiconductor industry. Silicene is a two-dimensional material that is similar to graphene. “Silicene is like the Swiss knife version of 2D materials,” according to Akinwande. “It can offer a host of distinct fundamental properties.”
Silicene does not occur naturally—a few groups have grown silicene in a lab on a sheet of silver. The material is only one atom thick, and it is unstable so it must be protected. Akinwande succeeded in working with the difficult material by protecting the silicene by growing it on a thin film of silver capped with aluminum oxide. Then it is peeled off and placed on a silicon dioxide wafer with the silver side facing up. Lastly, the silver is patterned to make electrical contacts for a transistor. The finished device is stable under vacuum conditions.
Despite the progress we have made, many important challenges remain. Overcoming these challenges such as long term stability in air could accelerate new technologies based on this fascinating material.
Although silicene is far from being ready for commercial use, this is still an important development. It confirms theoretical predictions about silicene having excellent electrical properties and encourages labs to work on new methods for creating it. The thinnest of any semiconductor material, silicene could be used to make faster computer chips, which would make computers and other electronics more efficient in the future. Akinwande told In Compliance, “Despite the progress we have made, many important challenges remain. Overcoming these challenges such as long term stability in air could accelerate new technologies based on this fascinating material.”
The research is described in detail in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.