August 21, 2011

Finding may yield light-speed PC

NEW YORK - A one-atom-thick layer of carbon may one day help IBM and the U.S. military build more-precise radar and computers that operate at near the speed of light.

Physicists Konstantin Novoselov, 36, and Andre Geim, 52, at the University of Manchester in Britain, have found a way to manipulate how graphene, the thinnest and toughest material ever produced, conducts electricity, a breakthrough that opens the door to its use in digital electronics.

Because graphene conducts electricity 30 times as fast as silicon - approaching the speed of light, according to the researchers - the finding may be used by companies such as IBM to speed up computers. The material was first isolated by the two Russian-born scientists in 2004, and they were awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics last year. The latest research was published recently in the journal Science.

"They've observed a phenomenon that was unattainable previously," said Yu-Ming Lin, an IBM researcher who developed the first integrated circuit from wafer-size graphene in June. The Armonk, N.Y.-based company, which funded the study along with Samsung Electronics and the U.S. Air Force and Navy, will now consider how to use graphene in semiconductors and computers, he said.

Until recently, use of graphene was limited to development of more-efficient batteries and foldable touch screens, items that didn't require scientists to be able to stop and start the movement of electrons in the material.

Novoselov and Geim were able to control the current by suspending two layers of graphene in a vacuum, reordering the electronic structure.

The finding may lead to "completely new types of transistors," Novoselov said in a telephone interview. "You can probably start using it for computer chips, but we believe we have something different, bigger here."

IBM, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is researching the material's ability to create more-efficient mobile phones, clearer wireless signals and better radar, Lin said. The material's magnetic traits may also enable IBM to utilize high-frequency waves for medical devices that would spot diseases early on, Lin said.

Novoselov and Geim are part of a $1.4 billion effort put together by nine European organizations, including the University of Cambridge and Finland-based Nokia Oyj, to research graphene.

by Oliver Renick Bloomberg News Aug. 21, 2011 12:00 AM

Finding may yield light-speed PC

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