Post by Bruce Upbin (thank you)
This is a guest post by Supratik Guha, director, Physical Sciences,IBM Research.
About once in a generation a new material comes along that revolutionizes the field of electronics and sparks widespread changes to society. Silicon, developed sixty years ago, remains the basic material for building the integrated circuits that enable the information technology economy. Forty years ago, practical gallium arsenide lasers emerged for eventual use in optical disk drives and fiber optics, thereby altering the worlds of entertainment and telecommunications. A compound of gallium and nitrogen was harnessed 20 years ago for semiconductor-based light bulbs, promising to remake the world of lighting.
And now there are a couple of new entrants, allotropes of the chameleon-like carbon, from which crystals as hard as diamonds and as soft as the “lead” in a pencil are made.
These new materials, graphene and carbon nanotubes, could have enormous impact on our future. Graphene is a single sheet of carbon atoms, while carbon nanotubes are sheets of graphene rolled into tubes with the ends fused. Originally studied for the physics that arises from their atomic dimensions and shapes, they are being investigated for applications that span integrated circuits, energy storage and conversion, biomedical sensing and DNA sequencing. No material since silicon (and perhaps steel) has seen such diverse possibilities, and few appear to be endowed with the attractive electronic, optical, and mechanical properties that graphene and nanotubes are reported to possess. This groundswell of good news is certainly part hype, but, most researchers feel that these materials will eventually lead us to a convergence of computing, sensing, communications, and consumer electronics.
However, right now, they are like a rebel without a cause. We have not engineered these materials enough to be able to precisely predict where they will be used. This arc of progress can be unpredictable: yet this same uncertainty offers a tremendous opportunity for the United States to establish dominance in these core technologies.
Read on here