Humanity’s greed for more is forever pushing it to its limits, as it is led to making more and more discoveries and inventions. Recently, a new form of silicon has caught the attention of man: known as silicene, it is being seen as the perfect tool to construct much faster computer chips. Mauritian by birth, professor Lok Lew Yan Voon known as the father of silicene from the University of South Carolina, stated that it is similar to graphene.
However, much of silicene remains a mystery. But, a computer engineer seems to have found a way of exploiting the properties of the material.
First (top) & second (bottom) layers of silicene grown on thin silver film. Photo credits: Junki Sone et al (2014)
Silicene exists as layers of silicon one-atom thick. Its structure gives it the ideal electrical properties. However, it is challenging to be put to use. Moreover, even testing its properties is not easy a task. Fortunately, a computer engineer from the University of texas, Deji Akinwande, might be having the answer to the tricky questions as to how to exploit the material to manufacture transistors.
Deji Akinwande has described his silicene transistors in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Akinwande explained that the silicene is made from the same material as Silicon Valley. He added that it should be easier to work with than a new material. According to him, once it is known how to make use of the good properties of the silicene, it will be immediately used by the semiconductor industry.
In previous works, silicene’s electrical properties were compared with those of graphene. The calculations of a physicist from Citadel Military College, Lok Lew Yan Voon, known as the father of silicene, suggested that its electrical characteristics were similar to graphene’s. In theory, electrons can pass through the two materials without being obstructed thereby allowing for speedy circuits.
The trouble with silicene is that it does not occur naturally. Rather, it is manufactured in labs on sheets of silver. Furthermore, when silicon atoms are organised in the 2-D form, they are under strain and are not stable like carbon, for instance. Since it is unstable, it should be preserved which makes manipulating it problematic – Akinwande has, however, found a way to counter this.
Akinwande grew silicene on a thin film of silver with aluminium oxide, and then peeled it off and placed it on a silicon dioxide wafer while keeping the side on which the silver was upwards. The silver was then patterned to make electrical contacts for a transistor. When it was done, the device was found to be stable under vacuum conditions.
This experiment is considered to be a critical first step even if it is not feasible commercially. But, the performance of the transistors suggests that the theory relating to silicene and electrons is true.