What can happen when graphene meets a semiconductor

November 21, 2013
UWM doctoral student Shivani Rajput, first author on the paper, shows a reconstructed image of graphene with the ripples clearly visible. Two postdoctoral researchers also worked on the project: Yaoyi Li (left) and Mingxing Chen. Credit: Troye Fox

For all the promise of graphene as a material for next-generation electronics and quantum computing, scientists still don't know enough about this high-performance conductor to effectively control an electric current.

Graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of carbon, conducts electricity so efficiently that the electrons are difficult to control. And control will be necessary before this wonder material can be used to make nanoscale transistors or other devices.

A new study by a research group at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) will help. The group has identified new characteristics of in a two-dimensional sheet of layered on top of a semiconductor.

The researchers demonstrated that when electrons are rerouted at the interface of the graphene and its semiconducting substrate, they encounter what's known as a Schottky barrier. If it's deep enough, electrons don't pass, unless rectified by applying an electric field – a promising mechanism for turning a graphene-based device on and off.

The group also found, however, another feature of graphene that affects the height of the barrier. Intrinsic ripples form on graphene when it is placed on top of a semiconductor.

The research group, led by Lian Li and Michael Weinert, UWM professors of physics, and Li's graduate student Shivani Rajput, conducted their experiment with the semiconductor silicon carbide. The results were published in the Nov. 21 issue of Nature Communications.

The ripples are analogous to the waviness of a sheet of paper that has been wetted and then dried. Except in this case, notes Weinert, the thickness of the sheet is less than one nanometer (a billionth of a meter).

"Our study says that ripples affect the barrier height and even if there's a small variation in it, the results will be a large change in the electron transport," says Li.

The barrier needs to be the same height across the whole sheet in order to ensure that the current is either on or off, he adds.

"This is a cautionary tale," says Weinert, whose calculations provided the theoretical analysis. "If you're going to use graphene for electronics, you will encounter this phenomenon that you will have to engineer around."

With multiple conditions affecting the barrier, more work is necessary to determine which semiconductors would be best suited to use for engineering a transistor with graphene.

The work also presents opportunity. The ability to control the conditions impacting the barrier will allow conduction in three dimensions, rather than along a simple plane. This 3D conduction will be necessary for scientists to create more complicated nano-devices, says Weinert.

Explore further: Samsung presents a new graphene device structure

Related Stories

Imperfect graphene renders 'electrical highways'

July 12, 2013

(Phys.org) —Just an atom thick, 200 times stronger than steel and a near-perfect conductor, graphene's future in electronics is all but certain. But to make this carbon supermaterial useful, it needs to be a semiconductor ...

Researchers grow graphene on silver

November 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —Graphene, a one-atom-thick carbon layer with extraordinary conductivity and strength, holds promise for a range of applications, but to realize its potential scientists must perfect techniques to tune its properties. ...

Recommended for you

Reshaping the solar spectrum to turn light to electricity

July 28, 2015

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense. The solar cells—made often of silicon or cadmium telluride—rarely cost more than 20 percent ...

Meet the high-performance single-molecule diode

July 29, 2015

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world's highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab's Molecular ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.