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18th October 2011

Graphene to be used in ‘next generation of computer chips’

Two Nobel prize winning professors at Manchester University believe they can create the next generation of computer chips

Scientists at the University of Manchester say they are on their way to creating the next generation of computer chips using the Nobel prize-winning material graphene.

The Manchester University team have created a device which could be vital for replacing the silicon chip in computers. By surrounding two sheets of graphene with boron nitrate, the team have also enabled scientists to see how graphene behaves when unaffected by its environment.

In their journal Nature Physics, the team have shown for the very first time how graphene inside electronic circuits will probably look in the future.

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko, the leading author of Nature Physics, said, “Creating the multilayer structure has allowed us to isolate graphene from negative influence of the environment and control graphene’s electronic properties in a way it was impossible to before.

“So far people have never seen graphene as an insulator unless it has been purposefully damaged, but here high-quality graphene becomes an insulator for the first time.”

Professor Andre Geim, who discovered the material along with Professor Kostya Novosolev, said, “We are constantly looking at new ways of demonstrating and improving the remarkable properties of graphene.

“Leaving the new physics we report aside, technologically important is our demonstration that graphene encapsulated within boron nitride offers the best and most advanced platform for future graphene electronics. It solves several nasty issues about graphene’s stability and quality that were hanging for a long time as dark clouds over the future road for graphene electronics.

“We did this on a small scale but the experience shows that everything with graphene can be scaled up.

“It could be only a matter of several months before we have encapsulated graphene transistors with characteristics better than previously demonstrated.”

These developments come after George Osborne pledged £50m for investment in the material.

Academics at the Manchester Enterprise Centre have developed a unit to take advantage of graphene’s business potential. Launched this year, the unit helps teach 30 PhD students researching graphene and nano-technology to commercialise the material.

Dr Martin Henery, one of the group tutors on the new unit, said, “A great deal of work will be required to drill down from a huge global opportunity to identifying a customer that will pay to have a real problem solved, developing the technology so that it can do that job while at the same time generating intellectual property that can be protected, and finally acquiring the right mix of people, money and resources that can take this technology to market.

“In a few years from now we might not only have Manchester University’s graphene technology being at the centre of an exciting new range of products, but some of our student’s may have started up and be leading the companies taking those products to market.”

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