An international team of researchers has successfully created silicene, a hexagonal mesh of silicon atoms which, like graphene, measures just one atom tall.
Silicene is thought to have electronic properties similar to graphene, with the added benefit of being more compatible with silicon-based electronics — a feature that could see it implemented in real-world applications sooner and more effectively than its carbon-based cousin.
Let's be clear: graphene is incredible. The carbon allotrope's unprecedented strength and unmatched conductivity have earned it praise as a miracle material for years. But the wonder-substance has its shortcomings.
One of graphene's most notable limitations is its incompatibility with silicon-based electronics. To quote IBM's Phaedon Avouris, speaking in this 2011 interview with the BBC, "we feel that it's rather difficult to imagine graphene as a replacement to silicon." The applications of the two materials, Avouris explains, "are in different domains."
In other words: it may not be possible to send carbon to do a silicon atom's job.
That's where silicene comes in. An international team led by Berlin Technical University's Patrick Vogt recently created the mesh of silicon atoms (which are chemically related to carbon atoms) by condensing silicon vapor onto a silver plate. Depicted here (graphene on the left, silicene on the right), the silicene lattice is thought to possess many of the optical, chemical, electronic, and even structural properties of graphene, but in a form that would actually allow it to be integrated into existing silicon chip technologies.
In an interview with New Scientist, semiconductor physicist Michel Houssa said that the next step for researchers will be to grow silicene on insulating substrates that will allow them to "learn more about its electrical properties and understand how they can be exploited to build future electronic devices." [New Scientist | ExtremeTech | BBC]