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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Honey, I shrunk the Computer

With a beam of infrared light, physicists at UC San Diego have sent waves of electrons across a gossamer web of carbon atoms. These signals, called plasmons, could carry information the same way light does in fiber optic cables. But with wavelengths that are tens of nanometers rather than hundreds for light, plasmons can fit into much smaller spaces.

The ability to propagate plasmons is just the latest of a host of intriguing properties discovered in this material, called graphene.

A single layer of atoms linked like molecular chicken wire, graphene can be peeled off ordinary graphite, the stuff of pencil leads, using the same kind of adhesive tape found on many office desks. Strong and flexible, it can be printed in tiny circuits that could help shrink computing devices.

Scientists have launched plasmons across the surface of metals before, but graphene plasmons have an additional feature that boosts their potential for transmitting information. The team, led by physics professor Dimitri Basov, demonstrated that they could tune these electron waves—control their frequency and amplitude—using a simple electrical circuit.

—Susan Brown