Move over graphene, today is silicene's day to shine. Silicene is a single-atom thick layer of silicon, whose theoretical properties could have exciting applications in computer chips. Now, scientists have made the first silicene transistor, and it's amazingly fast.
Graphene and silicene are both single-atom thick materials (though graphene is made of carbon), whose structure allows electrons to zip through them at crazy speeds. Computer chips are already made of silicon though, so it stands to reason that silicene could be easier to integrate.
Deji Akinwande of the University of Texas Austin found a way to make transistors out of silicene, a tricky procedure because silicene is an unstable material. Technology Review explains:
Once silicene is made, its instability means it must be protected, and that makes it difficult to work with. Akinwande found a way around this problem by growing silicene on a thin film of silver capped with aluminium oxide. The whole thing is then peeled off, and then placed on a silicon dioxide wafer with the silver side up. Finally, the silver is patterned to make the electrical contacts for a transistor. Once the device is finished, it is stable under vacuum conditions.
This is an exciting advance for silicene, but it's still far from coming to a computer near you. Computer chips are made up of millions of transistors, and silicene is still pretty darn hard (and expensive!) to make. Silicene may be not practical yet, but these transistors just proved its potential is not entirely theoretical either. [Nature Nanotechnology, MIT Technology Review]
Picture: Tao et al. Nature Nanotechnology