Swiss scientists say they have a new candidate for making flexible electronic devices, after they successfully manufactured the first molybdenite microchip.
Swiss researchers have made a prototype microchip using a substance called molybdenite, which could prove to be a rival to both silicon and graphene. Image credit: Lanes
The integrated circuit was made at the Laboratory of Nanoscale
Electronics and Structures (Lanes), of the École Polytechnique
Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). On Monday, the researchers said it showed
microchips could be made smaller than silicon chips, use less
electricity than silicon, and be more flexible than silicon, the mainstay of
The flexibility of molybdenite could also make it suitable for
creating rollable computers or devices that can be attached to a
person's skin, the researchers said.
"We have built an initial prototype, putting from two to six serial
transistors in place, and shown that basic binary logic operations
were possible, which proves that we can make a larger chip," Lanes
director Andras Kis said in a statement.
Kis had two articles
on the molybdenite research published in the ACS Nano scientific
journal last month.
Potential rival to silicon
The EPFL first began talking up molybdenite, or molybdenum
disulphide (MoS2), earlier this year, when it pointed out its
potential in computing. The substance has good semiconducting
properties, which positions it as a rival to silicon, albeit one that
allows for greater miniaturisation.
"The main advantage of MoS2 is that it allows us to reduce the size
of transistors, and thus to further miniaturise them," Kis said.
Layers of silicon cannot be less than 2nm thick, otherwise they
oxidise and stop working. Molybdenite can work at a thickness of three
atoms with a diameter of 0.2nm, so chips made using the substance can be at least three times
smaller than those made with silicon.
Molybdenite is also being compared to graphene,
the graphite-derived material that many see as silicon's successor.
Like graphene, molybdenite comes in flexible, stretchable
two-dimensional layers that can be peeled off the bulk material using
However, MoS2 has some key advantages over graphene. One of the big problems
with graphene is the fact that it does not have a band gap, which
means transistors made using graphene cannot be fully switched off.
Like silicon, molybdenite does have a band gap.
Crucially, molybdenite can, like silicon, amplify electronic signals
at ambient temperatures — graphene normally needs to be cooled down to
temperatures in order to work in this way, although recent research at Purdue University has demonstrated working graphene logic circuits at normal room temperature.
According to Kis, molybdenite has similar amplification abilities to silicon, making it viable for complex chips. This compares well to graphene, which has about a quarter of that performance.
Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviewsdelivered directly to your inbox with ="http:>ZDNet UK'snewsletters.