31 March 2011

Could silicene rival graphene?

A rival technology to graphene has been given a boost as scientists in Japan claim to have found a new way to manufacture atom thin sheets of silicon. Unlike graphene, Silicene is not carbon based but silicon based and therefore compatible with current silicon electronics.

The idea for the technology was first announced in 2007 by researchers at Wright University in Ohio, but until recently was no more than a theoretical material. Now Antoine Fleurence, a physicist at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Ishikawa, claims that he and his colleagues have succeeded in growing a layer of silicon on the ceramic zirconium diboride. The structure appears as a honeycomb network of hexagons, similar to graphene's chickenwire construction.

Graphite, the original material from which graphene is extracted is composed of two dimensional layers of covalently bonded carbon atoms. The layers are bound together by Weak van der Waals forces.

Silicon doesn't naturally shape up like this, so to create it scientists had to grow it on a substrate. In the summer of 2010, French scientists succeeded in growing ribbons of the material on silver. But since silver is a conductor, a new technique needed to be found if silicene was to be useful in electronics.

According to Science News for silicene to compete with graphene in the long run, the process of creating it must be comparably simple. And competing with graphene won't be easy, bearing in mind that the Russian scientists who first made graphene in 2004 did it using only a piece of Scotch tape and a chunk of graphite similar to pencil lead.

Chris Shaw

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