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IBM Scientists Quiet Electrons in Atomic Layers of Graphite

March 7, 2008

The researchers discovered that the noise in graphene-based semiconductor devices can be suppressed, which could prove useful for building future devices for use in sensors, communications devices, and computing systems.


YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY /Marketwire/ -- IBM researchers announced a discovery that combats one of the industry's most perplexing problems in using graphite—the same material found inside pencils—as a material for building nanoelectonic circuits vastly smaller than those found in today's silicon-based computer chips.

For the "first time anywhere," IBM scientists have found a way to suppress unwanted interference of electrical signals created when shrinking graphene, a 2D, single–atomic layer thick form of graphite, to dimensions just a few atoms long.

Scientists around the world are exploring the use of graphene as a much smaller replacement for today's silicon transistors. Graphene is a 2D honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms, similar to atomic-scale chicken wire, which has attracted strong scientific and technological interest because it exhibits promising electrical properties and could be used in transistors and circuits at scales vastly smaller than components inside of today's tiniest computer chips.

One problem in using these nano devices is the inverse relationship between the size of the device and the amount of uncontrolled electrical noise generated: as they are made smaller and smaller, the noise—electrical charges that bounce around the material causing all sorts of interference that impede their usefulness—grows larger and larger. This trend is known as Hooge's rule, and occurs in traditional silicon-based devices, as well as in graphene nano-ribbons and carbon nanotube–based devices.

"The effect of noise from Hooge's rule is exaggerated at the nanoscale because the dimensions are approaching the nearly smallest limits, down to only a handful of atoms, and the noise created can overwhelm the electrical signal that needs to be achieved to be useful," said IBM Researcher Dr. Phaedon Avouris, who leads IBM's exploration into carbon nanotubes and graphene. "To quote the famous physicist Rolf Landauer, at the nanoscale 'the noise is your signal.' In other words, you cannot produce any useful electronic device at the nanoscale if the noise is comparable to the signal you are trying to switch on and off."

Now, IBM scientists have found that the noise in graphene-based semiconductor devices can, in fact, be suppressed and report the results in the journal Nano Letters.

In their experiments, the IBM researchers first used a single layer, or sheet, of graphene to build a transistor and noted that the device does in fact follow Hooge's Rule: as they are made smaller and smaller, there is an increase in the noise created.

Two Layers Are Better Than One
However, when the IBM researchers built the same device with two sheets of graphene instead of one—one stacked on top of the other—they noted that the noise is suppressed and is weak enough that these so-called bilayer graphene ribbons could prove useful for building future semiconductor devices for use in sensors, communications devices, computing systems, and more. The noise is inhibited because of the strong electronic coupling between the two graphene layers that counteracts the influence of the noise sources—the system acts as a noise insulator.

While further detailed analysis and studies are required to better understand these phenomena, the findings provide exciting opportunities for graphene bilayers in a variety of applications.

The report on this work titled "Strong Suppression of Electrical Noise in Bilayer Graphene Nanoribbons," by Yu-Ming Lin and Phaedon Avouris of IBM's T.J.Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, is available online at the journal Nano Letters.


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