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Archive - Sep 7, 2013

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DNA Used to Assemble Transistor from Graphene

DNA is the blueprint for life. Could it also become the template for making a new generation of computer chips based not on silicon, but on an experimental material known as graphene? That’s the theory behind a process that Stanford chemical engineering professor Dr. Zhenan Bao revealed online on August 30, 2013 in Nature Communications. Dr. Bao and her co-authors, former post-doctoral fellows Dr. Anatoliy Sokolov and Dr. Fung Ling Yap, hope to solve a problem clouding the future of electronics: consumers expect silicon chips to continue getting smaller, faster and cheaper, but engineers fear that this cycle could grind to a halt. Why has to do with how silicon chips work. Everything starts with the notion of the semiconductor, a type of material that can be induced to either conduct or stop the flow of electricity. Silicon has long been the most popular semiconductor material used to make chips. The basic working unit on a chip is the transistor. Transistors are tiny gates that switch electricity on or off, creating the zeroes and ones that run software. To build more powerful chips, designers have done two things at the same time: they’ve shrunk transistors in size and also swung those gates open and shut faster and faster. The net result of these actions has been to concentrate more electricity in a diminishing space. So far that has produced small, faster, and cheaper chips. But at a certain point, heat and other forms of interference could disrupt the inner workings of silicon chips. "We need a material that will let us build smaller transistors that operate faster using less power," Dr. Bao said. Graphene has the physical and electrical properties to become a next-generation semiconductor material – if researchers can figure out how to mass-produce it. The image depicts the assembly process.