Graphene is amazing stuff. It consists of a single layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a unique honeycomb structure, which gives it extraordinary properties.
Electrons move through graphene at a phenomenal speed and although the material is a million times thinner than paper, it’s “so strong it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap,” according to James Horne, a mechanical engineering professor at Columbia University, and reported in Gigaom.
It’s no wonder then that researchers around the world have been looking for ways to use graphene’s awesome electrical, thermal, mechanical, and optical properties to replace silicon as the basis for the development of consumer electronics, medical devices, and a host of other technologies.
Now, an international team of researchers has published a study appearing in the journal Nature that seems to bring the world one step closer to realizing graphene’s promise.
According to the study, graphene nanoribbons act like optical wave guides, or quantum dots, that make it possible for electrons to flow smoothly along the edges of the material. This property is known as ballistic transport. By contrast, the impurities in other conductors, such as copper, create significant resistance as electrons travel through them.
The researchers measured the ballistic transport properties in 40-nanometers wide graphene nanoribbons. The ballistic transport properties, like those seen in cylindrical carbon nanotubes, exceeded predictions for graphene by a factor of 10.
“This work shows that we can control graphene electrons in very different ways because the properties are really exceptional,” Walt de Heer, Regent’s professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a statement. “This could result in a whole new class of coherent electronic devices based on room temperature ballistic transport in graphene. Such devices would be very different from what we make today in silicon.”
While de Heer says a lot of fundamental physics has to be done to fully understand graphene’s amazing properties, he also added, “We believe this shows that there is a real possibility for a new type of graphene based electronics.”