Three-dimensional electronics is swiftly becoming a reality, exemplified by today’s announcement of a 3D printer for personal electronics. But what are big high-tech companies doing about it? The answer: they are bringing it to the nanoscale.
A patent application by IBM, published today, describes a three-dimensional nanoscale electronic circuit made of graphene. Layers of graphene are stacked on top of each other, with thin insulating layers in between. Each graphene layer contains miniature electronic devices, for example IBM’s patented graphene transistors. The insulating layer is perforated at chosen points, to connect the graphene layers, enabling three-dimensional electronics. It’s like a layer cake, with each layer a separate electronic circuit, connected to other layers at will. The invention is aimed at increasing the density of electronics by constructing such skyscrapers.
The idea of 3D electronic architecture is nothing new, however having a patent which uses graphene would give a company a significant advantage, with graphene electronics expected to slowly take over a market share from traditional electronics. It is interesting that the patent application does not at least give examples of insulating materials, as is common with technology patents. We know that IBM has considered nitrides as insulators in combination with graphene, and there are several other materials recently developed for this purpose (for example boron nitride).
We have recently seen an AMD patent for 3D graphene electronics approved, but there shouldn’t be a problem of prior art in this case. The AMD patent describes graphene grown on the sides of a dielectric to form upright components of a 3D circuit, which is actually hilariously similar to a recent report in Nature Physics of graphene grown on the sides of silicon carbide terraces. Whatever the case, the big fish seem to be closer and closer to bringing us faster and smaller computers with graphene.