July 8, 2015

Could black phosphorus be the next silicon?

New material could make it possible to pack more transistors on a chip, research suggests

(July 8, 2015)  As scientists continue to hunt for a material that will make it possible to pack more transistors on a chip, new research from McGill University and Université de Montréal adds to evidence that black phosphorus could emerge as a strong candidate.

In a study published today in Nature Communications, the researchers report that when electrons move in a phosphorus transistor, they do so only in two dimensions. The finding suggests that black phosphorus could help engineers surmount one of the big challenges for future electronics: designing energy-efficient transistors.

“Transistors work more efficiently when they are thin, with electrons moving in only two dimensions,” says Thomas Szkopek, an associate professor in McGill’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and senior author of the new study. “Nothing gets thinner than a single layer of atoms.”

In 2004, physicists at the University of Manchester in the U.K. first isolated and explored the remarkable properties of graphene -- a one-atom-thick layer of carbon. Since then scientists have rushed to  investigate a range of other two-dimensional materials. One of those is black phosphorus, a form of phosphorus that is similar to graphite and can be separated easily into single atomic layers, known as phosphorene.

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