Researchers have solved three fiendishly difficult technical challenges that were effectively blocking the realization of the potential shown by semiconducting 2D materials, a key ingredient to creating new atom-thick transistors that can reset Moore's Law. Thanks to the works of a multi-institutional team of researchers the production of high-quality 2D materials at a commercial scale now appears to be solved.
The advance of semiconductor development is threatened by natural restrictions imposed by the way transistors are fabricated and the materials that are used. This barrier to Moore’s Law has long been looming on the horizon, and forward-thinking scientists have been researching and developing alternative routes to deliver the continuous improvement that is sought.
One of the most likely practical ways that the semiconductor industry can put a new spring in its step is to replace silicon with so-called 2D materials to creat 2D transistors. Scientists looking closely at 2D materials have highlighted several attractive qualities which should help deliver significant improvements to performance, efficiency, and scalability. Intel’s Components Research (CR) Group, for example recently presented nine research papers, with some of them touting the use of new 2D materials as a route to developing processors with over a trillion transistors, by 2030.
Now three critical challenges to the commercialization of 2D materials have been solved, claim the international group of scientists, making the manufacture of 2D materials in single-crystalline form on silicon wafers possible. These challenges were specifically described as follows:
- precise kinetic control of layer-by-layer 2D material growth,
- maintaining a single domain during the growth for uniform thickness, and
- wafer-scale controllability of layer numbers and crystallinity.
You can read the full paper for further details about each of these challenges and how they have been solved by the processes invented by the multi-institutional team. The work is detailed in a paper (opens in new tab) titled ‘Non-epitaxial single-crystal 2D material growth by geometric confinement’ and published by Nature magazine.
Sang-Hoon Bae, one of the project leaders, and a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, certainly seems confident in the impact of the research. “We believe that our confined growth technique can bring all the great findings in physics of 2D materials to the level of commercialization by allowing the construction of single domain layer-by-layer heterojunctions at the wafer-scale,” explained Bae. “Our achievement will lay a strong foundation for 2D materials to fit into industrial settings.”
As with all research of this nature, it could be years before we see 2D materials used in practical applications. However, with companies like Intel and Samsung deeply involved in this project — and the fact that Intel already has 2D Gate All Around (GAA) transistors in its research pipeline — that future might come sooner than you think.