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Novel fab method paves the way for thin computing devices

02 Feb 2016

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The method by which computer chips are built these days is by stacking layers of different materials and etching patterns into them. Now, a team of MIT researchers and their colleagues have reported what they claimed as the first chip-fabrication technique that enables significantly different materials to be deposited in the same layer.

They also reported that, using the technique, they have built chips with working versions of all the circuit components necessary to produce a general-purpose computer.

The layers of material in the researchers' experimental chip are extremely thin, between one and three atoms thick. Consequently, this work could abet efforts to manufacture thin, flexible, transparent computing devices, which could be laminated onto other materials. "The methodology is universal for many kinds of structures," said Xi Ling, a postdoc in the Research Laboratory of Electronics and one of the paper's first authors. "This offers us tremendous potential with numerous candidate materials for ultrathin circuit design."

Molybdenum disulfide inlayed onto graphene

Researchers used the MIT and Tim the Beaver logos to show photoluminescence emissions from a monolayer of molybdenum disulfide inlayed onto graphene. The arrow indicates the graphene-MoS2 lateral heterostructure, which could potentially form the basis for ultrathin computer chips. (Courtesy of the researchers)

The technique also has implications for the development of the ultralow-power, high-speed computing devices known as tunneling transistors and, potentially, for the integration of optical components into computer chips.

"It's a brand new structure, so we should expect some new physics there," said Yuxuan Lin, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and the paper's other first author.

Ling and Lin are joined on the paper by Mildred Dresselhaus, an Institute Professor emerita of physics and electrical engineering; Jing Kong, an ITT Career Development Professor of Electrical Engineering; Tomas Palacios, an associate professor of electrical engineering; and by another 10 MIT researchers and two more from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Taiwan's National Tsing-Hua University.

Strange bedfellows

Computer chips are built from crystalline solids, materials whose atoms are arranged in a regular geometrical pattern known as a crystal lattice. Previously, only materials with closely matched lattices have been deposited laterally in the same layer of a chip. The researchers' experimental chip, however, uses two materials with very different lattice sizes: molybdenum disulfide and graphene, which is a single-atom-thick layer of carbon.

Moreover, the researchers' fabrication technique generalises to any material that, like molybdenum disulfide, combines elements from group six of the periodic table, such as chromium, molybdenum, and tungsten, and elements from group 16, such as sulfur, selenium and tellurium. Many of these compounds are semiconductors, the type of material that underlies transistor design, and exhibit useful behaviour in extremely thin layers.

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