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Prototype Molybdenite Microchip Developed

Molybdenite (New York State Geological Survey)

Molybdenite (New York State Geological Survey)

Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have developed the first microchip on a molybdenite platform. The chip, with capabilities that exceed the limits of silicon, is described in a recent online issue of the journal ACS Nano (paid subscription required).

Physicist Andras Kis and colleagues from EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures developed the prototype microchip on a layer of molybdenite (molybdenum disulfide, MoS2, pictured right), an abundant, naturally occurring mineral. Earlier this year, Kis’s team demonstrated the capabilities and advantages of molybdenite as a replacement for silicon on semiconductors.

Molybdenite has been used in industry as a lubricant, particularly for munitions, but the EPFL researchers were the first to show its electrical properties. The material has a two-dimensional structure, making it less voluminous than three-dimensional silicon and thus better suited for miniaturized applications.

Graphene is also a two-dimensional material, but unlike graphene, molybdenite has a “band-gap” — a space free of electrons that makes possible greater control over electrical properties — and thus a better platform for transistors. Kis says that as a result of these capabilities, molybdenite “can be worked in layers only three atoms thick, making it possible to build chips that are at least three times smaller.”

Molybdenite shares silicon’s ability to amplify signals, another property graphene lacks, generating an output signal four times stronger than the incoming signal. This capability, says Kis, gives it “considerable potential for creating more complex chips.”

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