Scientists at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology claim to have found a way to enable graphene to be used in high-speed electronics.
Graphene is one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials know to man, consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. However, its physical properties prevent it from being used for high-speed electronics.
The scientists have therefore adapted graphene to create a new conductive nano-material made up of layers of crystal known as molybdenum oxides. This new material has unique properties that encourage the free flow of electrons at ultra-high speeds.
The CSIRO's Dr Serge Zhuiykov explained that, in conventional materials, atomic-scale "road blocks" can obstruct the electrons as they pass through, causing them to scatter.
The new nano-material is made up of layered sheets, allowing electrons are able to "zip through at high speeds with minimal scattering". In the paper, the researchers describe how the scientists used a process known as "exfoliation" to create layers of the material just 11nm thick.
"Quite simply, if electrons can pass through a structure quicker, we can build devices that are smaller and transfer data at much higher speeds," said Zhuiykov.
The paper, titled "Enhanced Charge Carrier Mobility in Two-Dimensional High Dielectric Molybdenum Oxide", will be published in the January issue of materials science journal Advanced Materials.
The news comes as the UK government prepares to invest a total of £21.5 million in the commercialisation of graphene, which many regard as the natural successor to silicon as a semiconductor in modern technology.
The University of Cambridge has been awarded over £12 million for research into graphene flexible electronics and optoelectronics, which could include things like touchscreens and other display devices.
London's Imperial College will receive over £4.5 million to investigate aerospace applications of graphene, working with a number of industrial partners including Airbus.
The other successful projects are based at Durham University, the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter and Royal Holloway. The universities will be working with industrial partners such as Nokia, BAE Systems, Procter & Gamble, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce, Dyson, Sharp and Philips Research, which together will bring a further £12 million to the table.
"The discovery of graphene was the first step towards a revolution in materials. This funding will advance research into the uses of this incredible material and support the next steps towards applications that will benefit individuals, industry and the UK economy," said Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.