David Kirkpatrick

September 10, 2010

Graphene could speed up DNA sequencing

I’ve blogged on this topic before (and on this very news bit in the second post from the link), but this just reiterates the versatility of graphene and why the material has so many scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs so excited.

From the second link:

By drilling a tiny pore just a few-nanometers in diameter, called a , in the graphene membrane, they were able to measure exchange of ions through the pore and demonstrated that a long  can be pulled through the graphene nanopore just as a thread is pulled through the eye of a needle.

“By measuring the flow of ions passing through a nanopore drilled in graphene we have demonstrated that the thickness of graphene immersed in liquid is less then 1 nm thick, or many times thinner than the very thin membrane which separates a single animal or human cell from its surrounding environment,” says lead author Slaven Garaj, a Research Associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard. “This makes graphene the thinnest membrane able to separate two liquid compartments from each other. The thickness of the membrane was determined by its interaction with water molecules and ions.”

August 19, 2010

Graphene and DNA sequencing

News on potential applications of graphene is always interesting, but I’ll have to admit I’d like see more actual market-ready solutions. This news is both intriguing and promising, but the nut graf contains those dreaded words, “could help (insert the gist of any story here).” It’ll be a pretty exciting day when I blog about something that will help, instead of could help with graphene as the key helping element.

From the second link:

Layers of graphene that are only as thick as an atom could help make human DNA sequencing faster and cheaper. Harvard University and MIT researchers have shown that sheets of graphene could be a big improvement over membranes that are currently used for nanopore sequencing–a technique that promises to speed up and simplify the sequencing of long strands of DNA.


The researchers create their membrane by placing a graphene flake over a 200-nanometer-wide opening in the middle of a silicon-nitride surface. Then they drill a few pores, just nanometers wide, in the graphene with an electron beam. The membrane is finally immersed in a salt solution that’s in contact with silver electrodes. The researchers observed dips in the current when a DNA strand passed through the pore, showing that the method could eventually be used to identify DNA bases.

May 28, 2010

Nanotech and DNA sequencing

Put the two together and you’ve got a solution for a major problem with the genome sequencing technique called nanopore translocation. And yet another application is found for graphene.

From the link:

But how do you measure the electrical properties of a single subunit among many tens or hundreds of thousands?

One of the most promising ideas is to make a tiny hole through a thin sheet of material and measure the amount of current that passes from one side of the sheet to another.

Next, pull a strand of DNA through this hole and measure the current again. Any difference must be caused by the nucleotide base that happens to blocking the hole at that moment.

So measuring the way the current changes as you pull the strand through the hole gives you a direct reading of the sequence of nucleotide bases in the strand.

Simple really. Except for one small problem. Even the thinnest films of semiconducting materials used for this process, such as silicon nitride, are between 10 and 100 times thicker than the distance between two nucleotide bases on a strand of DNA.

So when a strand of DNA passes through the hole, it’s not a single nucleotide base that blocks it but as many as 100. That makes it hard to determine the sequence from any change in the current.

Today, Grégory Schneider and buddies at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in The Netherlands present a solution to this problem. Instead of a conventional material, this team has used graphene, which is relatively easy to produce in sheets just a single atom thick.

Graphene is like a sheet of chicken wire made of carbon atoms. These guys have drilled holes of various diameters through just such a sheet using an electron beam to smash carbon atoms out of the structure.

June 5, 2009

Graphene beats copper in IC connections

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to blog about graphene, but here is the latest on the carbon nanomaterial.  (Be sure to hit the second link for images.)

The release:

Graphene May Have Advantages Over Copper for Future IC Interconnects

New Material May Replace Traditional Metal at Nanoscale Widths

Atlanta (June 4, 2009) —The unique properties of thin layers of graphite—known as graphene—make the material attractive for a wide range of potential electronic devices. Researchers have now experimentally demonstrated the potential for another graphene application: replacing copper for interconnects in future generations of integrated circuits.

In a paper published in the June 2009 issue of the IEEE journal Electron Device Letters, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology report detailed analysis of resistivity in graphene nanoribbon interconnects as narrow as 18 nanometers.

The results suggest that graphene could out-perform copper for use as on-chip interconnects—tiny wires that are used to connect transistors and other devices on integrated circuits. Use of graphene for these interconnects could help extend the long run of performance improvements for silicon-based integrated circuit technology.

“As you make copper interconnects narrower and narrower, the resistivity increases as the true nanoscale properties of the material become apparent,” said Raghunath Murali, a research engineer in Georgia Tech’s Microelectronics Research Center and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Our experimental demonstration of graphene nanowire interconnects on the scale of 20 nanometers shows that their performance is comparable to even the most optimistic projections for copper interconnects at that scale. Under real-world conditions, our graphene interconnects probably already out-perform copper at this size scale.”

Beyond resistivity improvement, graphene interconnects would offer higher electron mobility, better thermal conductivity, higher mechanical strength and reduced capacitance coupling between adjacent wires.

“Resistivity is normally independent of the dimension—a property inherent to the material,” Murali noted. “But as you get into the nanometer-scale domain, the grain sizes of the copper become important and conductance is affected by scattering at the grain boundaries and at the side walls. These add up to increased resistivity, which nearly doubles as the interconnect sizes shrink to 30 nanometers.”

The research was supported by the Interconnect Focus Center, which is one of the Semiconductor Research Corporation/DARPA Focus Centers, and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative through the INDEX Center.

Murali and collaborators Kevin Brenner, Yinxiao Yang, Thomas Beck and James Meindl studied the electrical properties of graphene layers that had been taken from a block of pure graphite. They believe the attractive properties will ultimately also be measured in graphene fabricated using other techniques, such as growth on silicon carbide, which now produces graphene of lower quality but has the potential for achieving higher quality.

Because graphene can be patterned using conventional microelectronics processes, the transition from copper could be made without integrating a new manufacturing technique into circuit fabrication.

“We are optimistic about being able to use graphene in manufactured systems because researchers can already grow layers of it in the lab,” Murali noted. “There will be challenges in integrating graphene with silicon, but those will be overcome. Except for using a different material, everything we would need to produce graphene interconnects is already well known and established.”

Experimentally, the researchers began with flakes of multi-layered graphene removed from a graphite block and placed onto an oxidized silicon substrate. They used electron beam lithography to construct four electrode contacts on the graphene, then used lithography to fabricate devices consisting of parallel nanoribbons of widths ranging between 18 and 52 nanometers. The three-dimensional resistivity of the nanoribbons on 18 different devices was then measured using standard analytical techniques at room temperature.

The best of the graphene nanoribbons showed conductivity equal to that predicted for copper interconnects of the same size. Because the comparisons were between non-optimized graphene and optimistic estimates for copper, they suggest that performance of the new material will ultimately surpass that of the traditional interconnect material, Murali said.

“Even graphene samples of moderate quality show excellent properties,” he explained. “We are not using very high levels of optimization or especially clean processes. With our straightforward processing, we are getting graphene interconnects that are essentially comparable to copper. If we do this more optimally, the performance should surpass copper.”

Though one of graphene’s key properties is reported to be ballistic transport—meaning electrons can flow through it without resistance—the material’s actual conductance is limited by factors that include scattering from impurities, line-edge roughness and from substrate phonons—vibrations in the substrate lattice.

Use of graphene interconnects could help facilitate continuing increases in integrated circuit performance once features sizes drop to approximately 20 nanometers, which could happen in the next five years, Murali said. At that scale, the increased resistance of copper interconnects could offset performance increases, meaning that without other improvements, higher density wouldn’t produce faster integrated circuits.

“This is not a roadblock to achieving scaling from one generation to the next, but it is a roadblock to achieving increased performance,” he said. “Dimensional scaling could continue, but because we would be giving up so much in terms of resistivity, we wouldn’t get a performance advantage from that. That’s the problem we hope to solve by switching to a different materials system for interconnects.”