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Graphene Transistors Could Lead to the Fastest Computers Yet

13 June 2017

Ryan M. Gelfand is an assistant professor in CREOL, the College of Optics and Photonics, at the University of Central Florida, and he led a team that developed a graphene-based transistor. What does this mean? If the transistor is successful, computers could run a thousand times faster while using just a hundredth of the power.

Traditional computer transistors are silicon-based. Silicon-based transistors were revolutionary when they were discovered because of their ability to switch currents on and off. Controlling the currents allowed technology like computers, TVs or radios, to shrink in size.

Now that smaller size has been achieved, researchers have moved on to making faster technology. And that is where graphene has become a huge player. Gelfland and his team have theorized that the next generation of transistors will be based on a ribbon of graphene. Graphene is a carbon material that has a thickness of a single atom.

"If you want to continue to push technology forward, we need faster computers to be able to run bigger and better simulations for climate science, for space exploration, for Wall (a) On-site magnetization profile of a zigzag graphene edge. (b) The on-site magnetization of each site in a unit cell as a function of distance from the edge.  (c) Graphene nanoribbon edge magnetization in the absence and presence of an externally applied magnetic field. (Source: Gelfand)(a) On-site magnetization profile of a zigzag graphene edge. (b) The on-site magnetization of each site in a unit cell as a function of distance from the edge. (c) Graphene nanoribbon edge magnetization in the absence and presence of an externally applied magnetic field. (Source: Gelfand)Street. To get there, we can't rely on silicon transistors anymore," said Gelfand, also the director of the NanoBioPhotonics Laboratory at UCF.

The research team found that applying a magnetic field to a graphene ribbon, the resistance of the current that is flowing can be changed. The magnetic field can be controlled by increasing or decreasing the current through carbon nanotubes.

Increasing or decreasing the magnetic field would also increase or decrease the current flowing through the transistor.

Transistors act like on and off switches. A series of transistors in different arrangements act like a logic gate. This allows microprocessors to solve complex arithmetic and logic problems. Currently, a computer's speed relies on silicon transistors that have been stagnant for years. Clock speeds of a computer using these transistors are in the 3 to 4 gigahertz range.

A series of these new graphene transistor-based logic circuits may produce a huge jump in clock speeds. The new speeds are close to the terahertz range. This is thousand times faster than current clock speeds.

“They would also be smaller and substantially more efficient, allowing device makers to shrink technology and squeeze in more functionality,” Gelfand said.

A paper on these new transistors was published in Nature Communications.



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