Just when it looked like electronic components could not get smaller, scientists in the United States announced that they have created the first transistor that - for all practical purposes - has only two dimensions. Such transistors could someday be used for building flexible high-resolution displays that need very little energy.
An atom is only about one-tenth of a billionth of a meter wide, so a layer of any material that thin may be considered two-dimensional.
Two groups of scientists - at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago and at the University of California - report they have successfully built transistors only a few atoms thick, with materials that have better electronic properties than silicon.
Computer processors, memory chips, TV screens and other electronic devices contain billions of silicon-based transistors. These tiny electrical switches have certain limitations, such as rigidity.
According to Dimitris Ioannou, an electrical engineering professor at George Mason University outside Washington, the traditional transistor has been refined as much as it can be, so researchers have been looking for new materials with important advantages, such as transparency and flexibility.
“If the layers are very thin the transistor can become flexible, so it doesn’t have to be rigid, like it would be in a silicon chip. So people can think of applications like wearable electronics, like, you know, television screens and other things," said Ioannou.
These new transistors can also carry higher current and switch much faster, which is important for high-definition screens.
Ioannou says the achievement could have far-reaching consequences.
"This is the first time every layer is a single [atom] layer, more or less, and that’s the novelty of it. Now, how good and how useful it will be, it’s still in research phase, but it certainly is an advance," he said.
Scientists say there is no good method for printing a large number of these new transistors on the same substrate, but this proof-of-concept shows that someday it may be possible.