Graphene and the Cloud
The current buzz word in the tech world asides from Big Data and the Cloud is… Graphene. Dubbed a wonder material that will revolutionize practically every field in the world, it has been tied somewhat to the parallel explosion of the Cloud.
What is it?
Graphene is actually a naturally occurring substance that is actually a subset material from graphite, which is in turn the stuff that pencil lead is made from. The facts regarding graphene are as follows:
- it is one atom thick
- it is stronger than steel
- it is shaped like a honeycomb lattice of carbon molecules
- it conducts heat and electricity many times better and faster than silicon
- it has excellent temperature stability (from 200 degrees Celsius to negative 200 degrees Celsius)
How will it speed up the Cloud?
Studies have shown that the flow of electrons is faster on graphene transistors than conventional transistors which results in faster data transfer between chips. Faster electronics will mean faster processing and thus a faster Cloud. Other studies have also shown new techniques that allow for graphene to absorb more than 60% of visible light, which makes it a prime candidate for a faster fibre optic receiver. Faster fibre optics in turn means faster Internet which will put the Cloud on overdrive by speeding up Big Data transfer and processing.
IBM is currently working on graphene transistors with their latest and greatest capable of reaching 155GHz. Researchers have also stated that graphene can be produced at low cost using standard semiconductor manufacturing processes, so all the recently opened fabrication plants or foundries need not be reworked to suit graphene, just that silicon may be replaced with graphene. Other researchers have noted that use of graphene may result in better:
- bendable display screens (experimental prototypes the size of TVs have been created already)
- batteries (silicon graphene battery sandwiches have shown charging times 10x faster than the norm)
- faster memory or data storage (IBM already have MRAM or Racetrack type devices on 200mm wafers
Why hasn’t it?
Well, asides from the fact that most researchers are still basically researching how to use graphene properly, there are two major issues stopping graphene from literally flying to production.
- a lack of an energy gap in natural graphene: this means that graphene does not posses enough of an on-off ratio required for digital switching, making it not good for processing discrete signals (but this surprisingly makes it good for analog signals)
- it is very hard to keep it straight and flat: the flatter the graphene the faster and smoother the electrical conductivity but if it bends it doesn’t move as fast
Current research also points to successful attempts at scaling working devices only being at 40 nanometers. Considering that Intel’s silicon-based Sandy Bridge micro-architecture is 32nm already and that the next Intel micro-architecture in 2012 will be at 22nm means that silicon is far from completely unusable just yet.
What is being done?
Currently many of the world’s leading experts and researchers are focusing all of their efforts into developing working graphene devices. This includes MIT which opened up a graphene research centre and the UK which provided a 50 million pound research fund. Many other researchers in various different fields are currently putting their best efforts forward in graphene research.
When will I see Graphene actually doing anything?
Not now, that is for certain. Currently computer manufacturers such as Intel don’t seem to be having any problems related to going below the 32nm process. While silicon has not yet reached its physical limitations just yet, research has shown that this may come very soon as attempts at going past 16nm have not been very stable much less successful.
By Muz Ismial
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