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University of Texas researchers have created the thinnest transistor ever at only one atom thick. The bid to decrease transistor size has been an ongoing area of research and development, as being able to fit more transistors onto a microchip enables increased storage space and faster data processing in computers.
The one-atom-thick design was achieved using a silicene lattice—a two-dimensional sheet of silicon allotrope atoms inspired by the flat carbon lattice graphene. Unlike flattened graphene, silicene presents itself in a buckled honeycomb structure, creating an adjustable ‘band gap’—the energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist, a vital component for regulation of electron flow. Until now silicone and germanium have been the most commonly used elements in semiconducting transistor development. However, quantum effects mean that the electron flow can no longer be regulated in these materials when the transistors become too small.
Unfortunately, silicene is difficult to work with because it becomes unstable when exposed to air. Assistant professor Deji Akinwande and researchers at the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems are working to develop a new method of silicene fabrication that reduces air exposure. Success would enable commercial production of high-speed, low-energy silicene transistors.