A 2D semi-conducting material just an atom thick could open the door to super-fast computers and smartphones.
The semiconductor, developed by scientists at the University of Utah, is made of tin and oxygen - tin monoxide - and is formed from a layer of 2D material only one atom thick that allows electrical charges to move through it much faster than conventional 3D materials such as silicon.
The scientists want to use the material in transistors, which form the basis of the processors found in all electronic devices, to significantly increase their speed.
Transistors and other components used in electronic devices are currently made of 3D materials such as silicon and consist of multiple layers on a glass substrate.
The downside to using 3D materials is that the electrons bounce around inside the layers in all directions, slowing them down.
However, the 2D semiconductor only allows the electrons to move in one direction, so they are much faster.
While research has been carried out by other teams into similar 2D materials, such as graphene and borophene, these only allow for the transport of N-type, or negative, electrons.
In order to create an electronic device, however, you need semiconductor material that lets both negative electrons and positive charges known as ‘holes’ to move around.
According to University of Utah professor Ashutosh Tiwari, lead researcher on the project, the tin monoxide material is the first stable 2D semiconductor material to have been discovered.
"Now we have everything - we have P-type 2D semiconductors and N-type 2D semiconductors," he says. "Now things will move forward much more quickly."
The new material should allow for the manufacture of transistors that are even smaller and faster than those in use today.
A computer processor is comprised of billions of transistors and the more transistors packed into a single chip, the more powerful the processor can become.
Tiwari believes that the breakthrough could eventually allow for computers that are more than 100 times faster than current devices. The greater efficiency of the electrons will also prevent the chips from getting nearly as hot as current processors, which will be of great benefit to mobile devices that run on battery power.
"The field is very hot right now and people are very interested in it," Tiwari said. "So in two or three years we should see at least some prototype device."
The new discovery could help scientists to continue Moore’s law, an observation by the founder of Intel in 1965 that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit will double approximately every two years, bringing a raft of associated speed improvements and energy efficiencies. While this remained true for over 50 years, it was recently reported that progress has slowed and that the law was no longer true for current processor manufacturing processes.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.