Samsung cracks graphene transistor conundrum

Samsung is throwing its considerable weight behind graphene production, claiming a breakthrough that should overcome problems with using the material in transistors and open the doors to future development in electronics.

Various firms have been throwing money at developing graphene for future applications in replacement of silicon, with big hitters such as IBM and Intel achieving considerable headway.

Now Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology research arm has claimed that it has overcome one of the most fundamental problems with using graphene in a circuit – its ability to switch from one state to another like a semiconductor.

In the past, even Intel and IBM have written off graphene being used in a CPU, in its current state at least, due to the difficulting in getting the material to switch. But Samsung believes it has found a way to overcome this with a new transistor structure.

While graphene has many extraordinary properties that would make it very useful in electronics, such as extremely high electron mobility, the inability to switch between a ‘0’ and ‘1’ state makes it difficult to use in semiconductor applications.

Samsung points out that [revious attempts have been made to turn semi-metallic graphene into a semiconductor, but this has resulted in a decrease in electron mobility.

The team at Samsung’s research arm believe that by re-engineering the basic operating principles of digital switches, they have found a way to get graphene to switch between states without losing its coveted properties.

Samsung says that it has developed a ‘Schottky barrier’ control device named a ‘Barristor’ which can stop current in the graphene by lifting the barrier to a cut off point.

The firm claims to have also expanded the research into basic circuit components such as logic gates and logic circuits.

Samsung owns nine patents relating to the Barristor, which will go into the pile marked ‘graphene patents’ that it has been amassing.

According to the Intellectual Property Office, Samsung was leading last year in the number of patents for the ‘wonder material’.

This covers a range of applications and Samsung, like various other tech firms, has been eyeing the more imminent use of graphene in flexible touchscreens – with smartphones and tablets likely to be among the first ways that consumers see graphene implemented in their devices.

According to chip industry sooth-sayers Future Horizons, it could be a few years before we start to see processors using graphene in mainstream applications, and it appears that its apparent destiny to replacing silicon, in some quarters anyway, is far from assured.

However, if Samsung is keen on staying at the forefront of future chip development it will be interesting to see how other powerhouses respond.