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The world of materials science is aflutter with stories about graphene, a supermaterial that is capable of almost anything (if you believe the hype). This form of carbon chickenwire, they tell us, is stronger, faster and better than almost any other material you care to name.

But not cheaper. At least not yet. The big problem with graphene is making it. The only way to get it is to chip away at a bigger block of graphite and then hunt through the flakes looking for single layers of the stuff. That’s not a technique that’s going to revolutionise the electronics industry, regardless of how much cheap labour is available in China.

That’s why an announcement from Hirokazu Fukidome at Tohoku University in Japan and a few buddies is hugely important. These guys say they have found a way to grow graphene on a silicon substrate. To show off their technique they’ve combined it with conventional lithography to create a graphene-on-silicon field effect transistor–just the kind of device the electronics industry wants to build by the billion.

That’s a big deal for two reasons. First, being able to grow graphene from scratch is going to be a huge boost to the study of this stuff and its myriad amazing properties. Second, being able to grow it on silicon makes it compatible (in principle at least) with the vast silicon-based fabrication industry as it stands.

One fear was that graphene’s many advantages would be passed over because the electronics industry has so much invested in silicon. That need no longer be a worry.

Of course, Fukidome’s graphene transistor is not the first: we’ve seen several interesting graphene devices in recent years (for example here and here).

But the breakthrough is significant because it is likely to lead to the rapid widespread adoption of graphene in electronics.

If we’re about to enter an age of graphene, you could make a good argument that this is where it starts.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1001.4955: Epitaxial Graphene on Silicon toward Graphene-Silicon Fusion Electronics


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