Graphene walls could make powerful electronics

Sep 27, 2011
Researchers at Rice University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University calculated that graphene nanoribbons could stand up on diamond or nickel, or even form arches. Up to 100 trillion graphene walls could fit on a square centimeter chip. (Credit: Feng Ding/Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

( -- To stand a ribbon of graphene upright, it needs diamond on the soles of its shoes.

A new paper by collaborators at Rice University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University demonstrates the possibility that tiny strips of graphene -- one-atom-thick sheets of carbon -- can stand tall on a with a little support. This leads to the possibility that arrays of graphene walls could become ultrahigh density components of electronic or spintronic devices.

The work was published this month in the online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Calculations by Rice theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson, Assistant Professor Feng Ding of Hong Kong Polytechnic and their collaborators showed substrates not only of diamond but also nickel could chemically bind the edge of a strip of a graphene nanoribbon. Because the contact is so slight, the graphene walls retain nearly all of their inherent electrical or magnetic properties. 

And because they're so thin, Yakobson and Ding calculated a theoretical potential of putting 100 trillion graphene wall field-effect transistors (FETs) on a square-centimeter chip.

That potential alone may make it possible to blow past the limits implied by Moore's Law -- something Yakobson once discussed with Intel founder Gordon Moore himself.

"We met in Montreal, when nano was a new kid on the block, and had a good conversation," said Yakobson, Rice's Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering and a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering and of chemistry. "Moore liked to talk about silicon wafers in terms of real estate. Following his metaphor, an upright architecture would increase the of circuits on a chip -- like going from ranch-style houses in Texas to skyscraper condos in Hong Kong.

"This kind of strategy may help sustain Moore's Law for an extra decade," he said.

A sheet of material a fraction of a nanometer wide is pretty pliable, he said, but the laws of physics are on its side. Binding energies between carbon in the diamond matrix and carbon in graphene are maximized at the edge, and the molecules bind strongly at a 90-degree angle. Minimal energy is required for the graphene to stand upright, which is its preferred state. (Walls on a nickel substrate would be angled at about 30 degrees, the researchers found.)

Yakobson said the walls could be as close to each other as 7/10ths of a nanometer, which would maintain the independent electronic properties of individual nanoribbons. They could potentially be grown on silicon, silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide or silicon carbide.

The research illustrated differences between walls made of two distinct types of graphene, zigzag and armchair, so-called because of the way their edges are shaped. 

Sheets of graphene are considered semimetals that have limited use in electronics because electrical current shoots straight through without resistance. However, armchair nanoribbons can become semiconductors; the thinner the ribbon, the larger the band gap, which is essential for transistors.

Zigzag nanoribbons are magnetic. Electrons at their opposing edges spin in opposite directions, a characteristic that can be controlled by an electric current; this makes them suitable for spintronic devices.

In both cases, the electronic properties of the walls can be tuned by changing their height.

The researchers also suggested nanowalls could become nanoarches by attaching opposing ends of a graphene ribbon to the substrate. Rather than lie flat on the diamond or nickel surface, the energies at play along the binding edges would naturally force the strip to rise in the middle. It would essentially become a half-nanotube with its own set of potentially useful properties.

Precisely how to turn these two-dimensional building blocks into a three-dimensional device presents challenges, but the payoff is great, Yakobson said. He noted that the research lays the groundwork for subnanometer electronic technology. 

Explore further: Existence of two-dimensional nanomaterial silicene questioned

More information: Read the abstract at

Related Stories

Armchair nanoribbons made into spintronic device

Jan 25, 2011

In a development that may revolutionize handheld electronics, flat-panel displays, touch panels, electronic ink, and solar cells, as well as drastically reduce their manufacturing costs, physicists in Iran have created a ...

Discovery points way to graphene circuits

Aug 05, 2011

Rice University materials scientists have made a fundamental discovery that could make it easier for engineers to build electronic circuits out of the much-touted nanomaterial graphene.

Unzipping Carbon Nanotubes Can Make Graphene Ribbons

Apr 20, 2009

( -- By "unzipping" carbon nanotubes, researchers have shown how to make flat graphene ribbons. Graphene, which is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that looks like chicken wire, has unique electrical ...

Can graphene nanoribbons replace silicon?

Feb 18, 2010

( -- "Graphene has been the subject of intense focus and research for a few years now," Philip Kim tells "There are researchers that feel that it is possible that graphene could replac ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
Easier said than done, I'd imagine. The pay-off, needless to say, would be immense.
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
Forbidden Planet

Oh well, I don't use a lot of music or movies, so I barely even use my hard drive anyway.

But by the time you had market saturation of computers of this advanced technology, I should think that implementing some sort of General A.I., even if through brute force, would be only a matter of time...

This is also actually the equivalent of around 18 or 19 doublings of existing 2d technology in terms of transistor density, which translates to the equivalent of almost 30 years worth of the naive "no limits" projection of Moore's law, not 10 years.

We're talking "The Matrix" here. The ability, at least in terms of computational power, to render the visual aspects of an entire 3d reality to a resolution that the human eyes and brain cannot discern from reality. think of the color depth and pixel counts of your monitor, and project it into 3d as big as a ROOM. A PC size computer with 100 trillion bits per cm could do the calculations to render that image...
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
A single video card made with this level of technology would be capable of doing the calculations to render a 3d image of roughly 10ft CUBED worth of pixels at contemporary color depth and resolution as a visual image in space. That is, if you had the projector or hologram technology to actually project that image...

not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
Yes, but could the computer, with that same technology in the CPU, also handle the memory and computational requirements to simulate the environment, including the people, making them interactive with the flesh participant(s)?
Have they actually calculated about how much memory/processing power it would take to actually simulate a human?