People Doubt Moore's Law, Which States That the Number of Transistors in Computer Chips Doubles Every Two Years
Transistors are tiny components in computer chips that process electrical signals, and when they are packed more densely together, the efficiency and processing speed of the computer chip increases. With the exponential growth of technology, manufacturers were continually able to find ways to make computer chips smaller in size but able to contain more memory and perform faster at the same time. However, the size of transistors are currently approaching the atomic scale, and there are physical limits to how they can fit in the circuitry.
Researchers Use One-Atom Thick Graphene to find a Technological Breakthrough
Despite the current limitations in electronic system design, a team of engineers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Chicago devised a simpler, reproducible, and less expensive manufacturing approach. They found a way to coat a germanium wafer with a layer of pure graphene, which is a sheet of carbon that is only one atom thick. Germanium (Ge) has an atomic number of 32 from the periodic table of elements, and it is a lustrous, hard, and grayish-white metal that has similar appearance and properties as silicon, which is a material that is also commonly used as the base for computer chips. Their ability to manufacture the thin film of graphene onto this germanium wafer will decrease the size of computer chips, boost the functionality for semiconductor electronics, as well as substantially increase the capacity for data storage.
The Manufacturing Method: Lithography and Plasma Etching
Researchers used electron beam lithography in order to first create a larger template of extremely thinly spaced patterns that guide the orientation of the one-atom thick graphene strips. Electron beam lithography is the practice of scanning a focused beam of electrons to draw custom shapes on a surface that is covered with an electron-sensitive film. The primary advantage of electron beam lithography is that it can draw custom patterns with less than a 10-nanometer resolution, which is necessary for this scale of manufacturing.
Then, plasma etching was used to finalize the pattern onto the computer chip. Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, which includes solid, liquid, and gas. Plasma is created by either heating or applying a strong magnetic field to gas, allowing the gas to have a glowing attribute. Plasma etching is the use of a high-speed stream of plasma in order to finish a print pattern onto a surface. In this manufacturing method, plasma etching was used to embed the graphene patterns onto the germanium wafer.
"Using this one-atom thick graphene template has never been done before. It's a new template to guide the self-assembly of the polymers," says Ma, an electrical engineer at UW-Madison. "This is mass-production-compatible. We opened the door to even smaller features." Indeed, their work could possibly mean a breakthrough to current technological blockades in order to validate Moore's Law, once again. However, there will still be people with doubts such as the student in the following video. He is currently a fire protection engineering major at the University of Maryland.