Breakthrough material could replace silicon in semiconductors

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Chemists at Ohio State University have used sheets of germanium atoms to create a substance with numerous advantages over silicon – a breakthrough which they claim could lead to faster, lighter electronics.

The material, known as germanane, is said to conduct electrons ten times faster than silicon and five times faster than conventional germanium. "Most people think of graphene as the electronic material of the future," said Ohio State assistant professor of chemistry, Joshua Goldberger. "But silicon and germanium are still the materials of the present. "Sixty years' worth of brainpower has gone into developing techniques to make chips out of them. So we've been searching for unique forms of silicon and germanium with advantageous properties, to get the benefits of a new material but with less cost and using existing technology." According to Goldberger, the new material is also more chemically stable than silicon, not oxidizing in the presence of air or water. Plus, it is much better at absorbing and emitting light – opening up the possibility for its use in solar cells. Ordinarily, germanium takes the form of multilayered crystals in which each atomic layer is bonded together; the single atom layer is normally unstable. To get around this problem, Goldberger's team created multi-layered germanium crystals with calcium atoms wedged between the layers. The calcium was then dissolved using water, leaving empty chemical bonds in its absence. Those bonds were subsequently plugged with hydrogen, resulting in much more stable layers that could be peeled from the crystal while remaining intact. Goldberger and his team are now exploring how to tune the properties of germanane by changing the configuration of the atoms in the single layer.