Computer chips made out of graphene—a web of carbon atoms—could potentially be faster and more powerful than silicon- based ones. The discovery of graphene garnered the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, but the success of this and other forms of carbon nanotechnology might ultimately depend on chemists’ ability to create structures with atomic precision.
The discovery of buckyballs—hollow, cagelike molecules made entirely of carbon atoms—in 1985 was the start of something literally much bigger. Six years later tubes of carbon atoms arranged in a chicken wire–shaped, hexagonal pattern like that in the carbon sheets of graphite made their debut. Being hollow, extremely strong and stiff, and electrically conducting, these carbon nanotubes promised applications ranging from high-strength carbon composites to tiny wires and electronic devices, miniature molecular capsules, and water-filtration membranes.
For all their promise, carbon nanotubes have not resulted in a lot of commercial applications. For instance, researchers have not been able to solve the problem of how to connect tubes into complicated electronic circuits. More recently, graphite has moved to center stage because of the discovery that it can be separated into individual chicken wire–like sheets, called graphene, that could supply the fabric for ultraminiaturized, cheap and robust electronic circuitry. The hope is that the computer industry can use narrow ribbons and networks of graphene, made to measure with atomic precision, to build chips with better performance than silicon-based ones.
“Graphene can be patterned so that the interconnect and placement problems of carbon nanotubes are overcome,” says carbon specialist Walt de Heer of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Methods such as etching, however, are too crude for patterning graphene circuits down to the single atom, de Heer points out, and as a result, he fears that graphene technology currently owes more to hype than hard science. Using the techniques of organic chemistry to build up graphene circuits from the bottom up—linking together “polyaromatic” molecules containing several hexagonal carbon rings, like little fragments of a graphene sheet— might be the key to such precise atomicscale engineering and thus to unlocking the future of graphene electronics.
Source of Information : Scientific American Magazine