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Graphene Could Be the New Silicon

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Recent investigations by physicists at the University of Maryland indicate that graphene—one-atom-thick sheets of carbon—could one day supplant silicon as the material of choice for important applications such as high-speed computer chips and biochemical sensors. The research team, led by Michael Fuhrer, found that in graphene the intrinsic limit to the charge mobility, a measure of how well a material conducts electricity when subjected to an electric field, is higher than any other known material at room temperature. Graphene’s high mobility thus makes it promising for use in transistors that must switch extremely rapidly. If other factors that limit mobility in graphene, such as impurities, can be eliminated, its intrinsic mobility would be more than 100 times higher than that of silicon. The work was published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. That’s not all that has emerged lately about this new "wonder" material. SciAm author Andre K. Geim and several co-workers report that by looking at the optical reflectivity of graphene they were able to find a way to measure the fine structure constant, alpha, the parameter that describes coupling between light and relativistic electrons. Alpha is traditionally associated with quantum electrodynamics rather than condensed matter physics, which speaks to one of the truly unusual (even bizarre) aspects of graphene. The abstract of the paper was just posted on cond-mat. Anyway you slice it, graphene is really hot right now. For more on this new form of graphite, see Geim’s and Philip Kim’s April SciAm article Carbon Wonderland. And find how you can make the stuff yourself by viewing SciAm staffer JR Minkel’s nifty slideshow, D.I.Y. Graphene: How to Make One-Atom-Thick Carbon Layers With Sticky Tape. -- Edited by Steven Ashley at 03/31/2008 8:33 AM -- Edited by Steven Ashley at 03/31/2008 8:35 AM

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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