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Researchers test low-energy alternative to silicon chips

Warwick Ashford

Researchers are testing computer chips made from an alternative to silicon.

The Switzerland-based researchers claim that chips made from the alternative material are thinner, more flexible and require less energy than traditional ICs.

The silicon alternative is molybdenite (MoS2), a naturally occurring mineral (pictured) used in engine lubricants, ski waxes and plastics.   

The Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (Lanes) published details of the research in the latest edition of the ACS Nano journal.

Andras Kis, the professor who heads the team of researchers, said they chose to experiment with MoS2 partly because it is inexpensive and easily available, according to the BBC.

Kis says silicon is very reactive with oxygen and hydrogen, which means the thinnest layers of silicon used in computer chips have been around two nanometres thick.

MoS2 can be used in layers just three atoms thick, theoretically allowing chips to be made at least three times smaller, said Kis.

MoS2 is as stiff as stainless steel, but flexible enough to be rolled into tubes or used in curved mobile phone handsets.

However, the researchers said it could be 10 to 20 years before MoS2 enters commercial use, with work to be done on making the mineral more conductive and finding less labour-intensive ways of producing thin layers of the substance.


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