Graphene, shown above, is a very interesting material. It’s very strong (“strongest material ever measured“), and a very good electrical conductor: “The corresponding resistivity of the graphene sheet would be 10^−6 Ω·cm, less than the resistivity of silver, the lowest resistivity substance known at room temperature .” (source)
But what makes graphene even more interesting, in my opinion, is the recently discovered possibility of turning it into graphane simply by adding some hydrogen atoms.
Graphane. Carbon atoms in gray, hydrogen atoms in white.
…and the Yang
These hydrogen atoms apparently change the properties of the material in a very interesting way:
A hypothetical example for this is graphane (7), a wide-gap semiconductor, in which hydrogen is bonded to each carbon site of graphene. Here we show that by exposing graphene to atomic hydrogen, it is possible to transform this highly-conductive semimetal into an insulator.
What can you do with a good conductor that you can turn into an insulator by adding a few atoms?
Adieu to Silicon?
To me it seems like the obvious thing would be to try to make a CPU. If you can make enough pure graphene and you can control precisely where to add hydrogen atoms, you can probably replace photolithography, the technique currently used to make computer chips.
Your feature-size would be limited by how finely you can add hydrogen atoms to the graphene substrate (or maybe by electricity leakage – I’m not familiar enough with that to be sure), and your chips would be based on easy to find elements: carbon and hydrogen (though others would no doubt be needed – hydrogen is one way to modify graphene’s properties, but the Manchester University scientists who discovered graphane seem to think there are many others).
More R&D is required to know if this would work at all, and then to figure out practical ways to actually build microchips with these materials, but from what I know, it does seem very promising.
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- Control of graphene’s properties by reversible hydrogenation (pdf)
- Graphane: a two-dimensional hydrocarbon (pdf)
- Scientists from University of Manchester discover ground-breaking material
- New Carbon Nanomaterial at Technology Review
- Graphene at Wikipedia