• A new research study details how manipulating graphene could pave the way for incredibly tiny microchip designs.
  • Researchers from the University of Sussex believe the breakthrough could one day make computers and cell phones “thousands of times faster.”

Researchers from the University of Sussex have developed what could prove to be a breakthrough in microchip design. As detailed in the ACS Nano journal, researchers discovered that by folding graphene in a particular way, the material can start behaving like a transistor. This development, in turn, could ultimately pave the way for incredibly small and faster microchips.

According to Dr. Manoj Tripathi, one of the lead authors of the study, the research shows that it’s possible “to create structures from graphene and other 2D materials simply by adding deliberate kinks into the structure.” Consequently, the manipulation of graphene “can create a smart electronic component, like a transistor, or a logic gate.”

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What’s more, without having to add foreign materials to the graphene, the researchers boast that the technology is environmentally friendly. As an additional benefit, the entire process can be accomplished at room temperature, resulting in less energy usage in the process.

“We’re mechanically creating kinks in a layer of graphene. It’s a bit like nano-origami,” University of Sussex Professor Alan Dalton said of the breakthrough.

“It is absolutely critical that this happens as computer manufacturers are now at the limit of what they can do with traditional semiconducting technology,” Dalton said. “Ultimately, this will make our computers and phones thousands of times faster in the future.”

While it might be easy to dismiss Dalton’s remarks as nothing more than enthusiastic and biased hyperbole from someone involved in the research at hand, the magic that Apple pulled off with its M1 processor arguably underscores that there’s still more room for advancement across the board.

“This kind of technology — straintronics —  using nanomaterials as opposed to electronics,” Dalton added, “allows space for more chips inside any device. Everything we want to do with computers — to speed them up — can be done by crinkling graphene like this.”

ZDNet adds some background on the material:

Since it was discovered over 15 years ago, graphene has struggled to find as many applications as was initially hoped for, and the material has often been presented as a victim of its own hype. But then, it took over a century for the first silicon chip to be created after the material was discovered in 1824. Dalton and Tripathi’s research, in that light, seems to be another step towards finding a potentially game-changing use for graphene.

While the research won’t result in a shipping product anytime soon, it does speak to the potential for significant computing advancements years down the line.

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A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.