It will likely be years before a graphene interconnect is realized, but major computer companies including IBM and Intel have taken notice of the material. Nayak said graphene is also currently a “hot topic” in academia.
Carbon nanotubes, which are essentially made of rolled-up graphene, are another potential heir to replace copper as the primary material used for interconnects. But they suffer from setbacks similar to those of graphene, Nayak says. When single-walled carbon nanotubes are synthesized, about one-third of the batch is metallic and the remaining two-thirds are semiconductors. It would be extremely difficult to separate the two on a mass scale, Nayak says. On the contrary, recent research at Rensselaer and elsewhere shows graphene could be produced in a more controlled way.
“Fundamentally, at this point, graphene shows much potential for use in interconnects as well as transistors,” Nayak says.
According to Nayak, it is also possible that semiconductor graphene could one day be used in place of silicon as the primary semiconductor used in all computer chips, but research into this possibility is still extremely preliminary.
Along with Nayak and Shemella, other authors of the paper include Pulickel M. Ajayan, the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer, as well as Rensselaer physics graduate students Yiming Zhang and Mitch Mailman.
The ongoing research project is funded by the Interconnect Focus Center New York at Rensselaer, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. The computations are carried out with support from the Scientific Computation Research Center and with the use of the IBM Blue Gene machine through a Shared University Research (SUR) grant to Rensselaer.