If electronics stalwart silicon and futuristic graphene had a child, it would be silicene. And silicene is growing up. A University of Texas-Austin engineer has made the first transistors from silicene, moving the material closer to its potential to create more powerful devices.
Silicene is made of an atom-thick layer of silicon that, like graphene, can move data much faster than the silicon found in current electronics. While it lacks some of graphene’s other impressive qualities and is still extremely difficult to make, researchers are interested in it because of its relationship to silicon. Modern electronics rely on a highly developed silicon-manufacturing industry. Once silicene production is more reliable, it wouldn’t be as complicated or expensive to switch to silicene as it would be to switch to graphene.
Deji Akinwande, the UT-Austin researcher behind the new transistors, had to overcome some nasty hurdles. After growing silicene on a wafer, he had to store it in a vacuum to prevent it from degrading. That probably wouldn’t be possible in a commercially available device.
It’s unclear if silicene, graphene or some other two dimensional material (or none at all) will win the war among the most newfangled materials to become the future building block of the tech industry. But Akinwande’s silicene transistors did confirm the material’s impressive electrical properties: Electrons move through it with seemingly no resistance. With data moving that fast, you can make some powerful computers.