Researchers Scale Silicon Wall

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 27, 2011

In order to work around some of the performance limitations of silicon at the nanoscale, researchers are looking for ways to improve on existing architectures and engineer new materials to prevent performance degradation. A rising tide of interest and funding has spilled into work to discover high performance nanaoscale materials that will replace silicon transistors in the next decade.

Dr. Bhagawan Sahu at the Microelectronic Research Center in Austin, Texas is one of several scientists looking for silicon replacements at SWAN, a research center exploring next-generation nanotransistors.

SWAN is one of four nanoelectronics centers that is funded by the Semiconductor Research Corporation’s Nanoelectronics Research Initiative. This effort is backed by international semiconductor firms, including Intel, Texas Instruments, IBM and others, with vested interest in “safeguarding and going beyond Moore’s Law.”

According to a report today from the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Dr. Sahu and his team have made significant progress in their nanoscale materials research. As Aaron Dubrow reported:

“Today’s smallest semiconductor transistors are about 32 nanometers (nm) long. Dr. Sahu and the SWAN team aim to make 10nm transistors, with a thickness of less than one nanometer, using graphene. Since it was discovered in the mid-2000s, graphene has been lauded as the savior of the semiconductor industry. In 2010, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, of the University of Manchester, UK, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material.”

Made up of a single layer of graphite, graphene is the thinnest material in the world and possesses electron mobilities (a measure of how fast electrons in a material can move in response to external voltages) higher than silicon. These characteristics are attractive features and have generated tremendous interest from the semiconductor industry. However, as scientists learned more about graphene and proved it could be used as a potential material in transistors, initial excitements gave way to a greater appreciation of the design and fabrication challenges ahead.”

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