Published in PC Hardware

MIT comes up with simple Graphene semiconductor production

by on20 April 2017

Cut and Paste copycat chips

Boffins at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a method which uses graphene to help photocopy semiconductor wafers.

This could reduce the cost of wafer technology and enable production of devices made from expensive, exotic materials.

Graphene is one of those more super-sexy materials makes a pretty rubbish semi-conductor because it is difficult to “switch off” the flow of electrons.

MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, instead looked at graphene’s mechanical properties. Graphene is ultra-thin and Teflon-like, and could form a useful, barely perceptible layer between two surfaces.

The engineers developed a method to place single sheets of graphene onto a semiconductor wafer – a thin semiconductor slice. They then grew semiconducting material over the graphene layer. Being just an atom thick, it was effectively electrically invisible, allowing the top layer to “see” through the graphene to the underlying crystalline wafer.

This allowed the pattern to be imprinted – as the semiconducting material’s atoms rearrange into the crystalline pattern – without being influenced by the graphene.

Normal semiconductor manufacturing can mean that the wafer becomes strongly bonded to the semiconductor, making it almost impossible to separate afterwards and the wafer is thrown out.

Graphene is slippery, the engineers found that they could peel the top semiconducting layer from the wafer after imprinting.

The researchers were successful in applying their technique to exotic semiconducting materials, including some which are 50-100 times more expensive than conventional silicon.

According to Professor Jeehwan Kim, an assistant professor at MIT who led the research, manufacturers could use the graphene to “copy and paste” the wafer, then remove the wafer and use it many times over. This reusability opens the opportunity to explore more exotic semiconductors.

Professor Kim said that the industry has been stuck on silicon, and even though we have known about better performing semiconductors, we haven’t been able to use them because of their cost.

“This gives the industry freedom in choosing semiconductor materials by performance and not cost.”

Professor Kim and his team showed off applications for the method in flexible electronics by fabricating a flexible LED display with the MIT logo with the technique.

They suggest that the method could be used for installing solar cells over a car’s contoured surface.

They plan to design a reusable “mother wafer”, with regions of different exotic materials, and use graphene to create multifunctional, high-performance devices.

Of course if it is a copy photocopier it is only a matter of time before someone gets drunk at an office Christmas party and tried to photocopy their own naked bottom in graphene. If this has not happened already.

Last modified on 20 April 2017
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