The world’s first 2D material

Scientists are experimenting with graphene, a 2-D material created at the atomic level to see how we can enhance our electronics. We go inside the lab at the Material Research Institute at Penn State University to learn more.

TRANSCRIPT

Scientists are experimenting with graphene, a 2-D material created at the atomic level, to see how it can enhance our electronics.

We go inside the lab at the Material Research Institute at Penn State University to learn more.

Meet Frank.

Frank is a furnace, a furnace that heats up to about 2,400 degrees Celsius.

That's about 1/3 the temperature of the sun.

And the J.A. Robinson Research Group at Penn State's Material Research Institute uses it to make something called graphene.

Graphene is the first of what's being called 2-D materials.

They're strong, thin enough to be measured in atoms, and have the potential to change electronics forever.

Electrons can move faster in this material than any other material known to man.

So that means it's like a superhighway for electrons.

The speed at which they are able to travel is on the order of about 100 times faster than silicon.

The comparison to silicon is important.

Right now, silicon is at the core of every computer chip.

Those chips use transistors to process the information going into or heading out of your cellphone or computer.

Right now, industry giant Intel is using silicon to make a 14-nanometer transistor, the smallest on the market.

You can fit about 5,000 of them across the width of a human hair, and each one can send more than 100 billion electronic signals every second.

2-D materials could make those transistors even faster.

We're hitting the limit of being able to make it smaller and smaller without needing to put in a lot more power and a lot more electricity into it.

And so we're actually looking at new materials that could potentially replace silicon so that we can make more powerful or more energy-efficient devices.

If you're able to do that, then you're able to continue bringing things online, like enhancing virtual reality so you can make -- Because it takes a huge amount of computing, computation effort.

But before these materials can be used in electronics, they need to be produced and perfected in a lab.

That means using high-tech furnaces, like Frank, to continually make the materials and high-tech lasers, like Lucy, to examine them.

The things that we're growing are things that we can't see.

And so we need to actually identify that what we thought we just made is, in fact, the thing that we just made.

We will shoot laser lights at materials in spectroscopy, and the materials will refract the laser light coming back to the instrument.

This process is called Raman spectroscopy.

The light bouncing back is shown by something called a spectra.

Scientists use it to determine the quality of the material.

If they need a closer look, they use this -- the Titan electron microscope, a crown jewel of Penn State's Materials Research Institute.

It is powerful enough to see individual atoms.

That means imperfections, no matter how small, have no place to hide.

The process at Penn State is slow.

The biggest chip manufacturers can make billions of silicon transistors every second.

Members of the Robinson group are working with a single sample at a time.

In order for us to be able to make that amount of volume, we basically need to take what we can do with the state-of-the-art tools and science and basically scale it up to industrial levels.

And that's not very easy, because when you scale something, a process, up to that level, there's a lot of things that change.

But these scientists believe they're building a solid foundation that will push 2-D materials closer to the mainstream.

Graphene research, 2-D research, at this point, is still very much an academic exercise, but there are a lot of people, including ourselves here at Penn State, that are really trying to push this so that it goes beyond academia and really does make an impact on our everyday life.

We know that we are working on something that is next-generation technology.

So that's really exciting.