Manchester’s Successor To Silicon

Four weeks ago I was in Manchester at a meeting of the North-West Technology Network (NWTN). The meeting was mostly devoted to high-tech start-up activity. Last week it occurred to me that we had missed a trick.


What kick-started that thought was a report from MIT that it had developed a single-transistor frequency multiplier made out of graphene.


What’s that got to do with start-up activity? The technology must be years from commercial exploitation.


Not so, according to MIT, its graphene device development is mostly based on relatively standard chip processing technology and using it to develop a commercial product  “may take a year of work, maximum two,” according to Tomas Palacios, assistant professor at MIT’s department of electrical engineering.


So what’s all this got to do with Manchester? WellManchesterUniversity’s Professor Andre Geim and Dr Kostya Novoselov invented graphene five years ago.


While anything  capable of being used in a commercial product with ‘a year of work, maximum two’ is grist to the mill of start-up companies.


Graphene is a mono-layer of carbon atoms that resembles nano-chicken wire. Effectively it is unrolled carbon nanotube which is a candidate for combining fast nano-carbon semiconductors with the semiconductor industry’s standard planar process.


MIT says the technology has the capability of increasing processor speeds by 100 times delivering practical systems in the 500 to 1,000 gigahertz range. Key to the usefulness of graphene is the fact that electron mobility in graphene is 100 times faster than electron mobility in silicon.


The MIT project is currently being partially funded by the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology and by the Interconnect Focus Centre program, and it has already attracted the interest of “many other offices in the federal government and major chip-making companies,” says Palacios, “in physics today, graphene is, arguably, the most exciting topic.”


Now here’s something real, and promising, and British to get excited about and which the UK government should be looking to get behind.


There is talk of the government making available £1 billion to go to VCs to stimulate start-ups.


Here, in Manchester, there could hardly be a more massive opportunity to use some of that £1 billion to develop the successor to silicon.

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  1. grumpy
    April 08, 2009 14:24

    not wishing to be a party pooper but why graphene in 1-2 yrs when GaAs, SiGe, GaN have all taken so much longer to get to where there at ? Also, think of the industrialisation effort to qualify a 500GHz technology in the time domain – what bandwidth scope would I need ?

  2. HArry Butterworth
    April 07, 2009 13:16

    As a (very) Old Manc I could get quite excited about the idea that graphene might offer a PC that makes my current machines look pedestrian.
    However, Government grants and controlled by the advice given to the elected few by the permanent many. The permanent many have lots of reasons not to deviate from the well trodden path.
    You are up against the Peter principle and Harry’s corollary: no one whe has reached his level of incompetance will promote anyone under him who could be a threat to him. Result: always say “No”. That way you are never involved in a failure.
    One way out would be to save a billion by dispensing with them. You might get half the project going to waste, but you would end up with half being successes and a bank balance exactly as it would have been.
    Harry Butterworth
    Agritron Ltd.

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