updated 12:10 pm EDT, Thu March 26, 2009
Graphene to bump silicon
A recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is naming Graphene, a form of pure carbon founded in 2004 that could be applied to microchips to make for faster processing speeds than is possible with current silicon chips. Researchers outside of MIT have created prototype transistors and similar simple devices using one-atom thick Graphene, but the newer MIT findings could make for more advanced applications. The researchers built an experimental Graphene chip that acts as a frequency multiplier, capable of doubling the frequency of an electromagnetic signal, or effectively doubling a CPU's clock speed.
Frequency multipliers based on other material are already used in radio communications and other applications but they produce noisy signals that require energy-consuming filtering.
According to Tomás Palacios, assistant professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who headed up the research and Graphene project, the new technology could result in practical systems that produce frequencies in the 500GHz to 1,000GHz range, or about 100 to 200 times faster than the current 5GHz in conventional set-ups. Palacios further believes developing the technology to a commercially-viable one should take about a year or two at the most, as it's based on standard chip processing technology.
Currently, the research is being partially funded by MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology and by the Interconnect Focus Center program, other funds may come from other offices in the federal government and major chip-making companies, who remain unnamed but have shown interest, Palacios says.
The mobility of Graphene, which is a measure of how easily electrons can start moving in the material, is about 100 times higher than that of silicon, making it suitable for use in electronics.