Global Technology - July 2017

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Over the past sixty years, traditional silicon-based transistors revolutionized electronics with their ability to switch current on and off.  By controlling the flow of current, transistors allowed the creation of smaller radios, televisions and computers.

As reported this month in Nature Communications, a team of researchers has designed a new generation of transistor based not on silicon but on a ribbon of graphene, the two-dimensional carbon material with the thickness of a single atom.

Their findings have big implications for electronics, computing speeds and big data.  Why? Because, if you want to continue to push technology forward, you need faster computers to be able to run bigger and better simulations of weather, model biological systems, and manage money on Wall Street.  To get there, you can’t rely on silicon transistors anymore.

Transistors act as on and off switches.  A series of transistors in different arrangements act as logic gates, allowing microprocessors to solve complex arithmetic and logic problems.  But the speed of computer microprocessors that rely on silicon transistors has been relatively stagnant for years, with clock speeds mostly in the 3 to 4 gigahertz range.

Increasing or decreasing the strength of a magnetic field also increases or decreases the flow of current through a graphene ribbon.  The result is a new type of transistor, which acts much like a valve controlling the flow of water through a pipe.

Significantly, a cascading series of graphene-transistor logic circuits can produce a massive jump in performance, with clock speeds approaching the terahertz range.  That’s a thousand times faster than current computers!

These computers would also be smaller and substantially more efficient, allowing device-makers to shrink technology and squeeze in more functionality.


Nature Communications, June 5, 2017, “Cascaded Spintronic Logic With Low-Dimensional Carbon,” by Joseph S. Friedman, et al.  © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature.  All rights reserved.

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