10/04/2011

Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

Controlling silicon evaporation allows scientists to boost graphene quality

Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have for the first time provided details of their "confinement controlled sublimation" technique for growing high-quality layers of epitaxial graphene on silicon carbide wafers. The technique relies on controlling the vapor pressure of gas-phase silicon in the high-temperature furnace used for fabricating the material.

The basic principle for growing thin layers of graphene on silicon carbide requires heating the material to about 1,500 degrees Celsius under high vacuum. The heat drives off the silicon, leaving behind one or more layers of graphene. But uncontrolled evaporation of silicon can produce poor quality material useless to designers of electronic devices.

"For growing high-quality graphene on silicon carbide, controlling the evaporation of silicon at just the right temperature is essential," said Walt de Heer, a professor who pioneered the technique in the Georgia Tech School of Physics. "By precisely controlling the rate at which silicon comes off the wafer, we can control the rate at which graphene is produced. That allows us to produce very nice layers of epitaxial graphene."

De Heer and his team begin by placing a silicon carbide wafer into an enclosure made of graphite. A small hole in the container controls the escape of silicon atoms as the one-square-centimeter wafer is heated, maintaining the rate of silicon evaporation and condensation near its thermal equilibrium. The growth of epitaxial graphene can be done in a vacuum or in the presence of an inert gas such as argon, and can be used to produce both single layers and multiple layers of the material.

"This technique seems to be completely in line with what people might one day do in fabrication facilities," de Heer said. "We believe this is quite significant in allowing us to rationally and reproducibly grow graphene on silicon carbide. We feel we now understand the process, and believe it could be scaled up for electronics manufacturing."

The technique for growing large-area layers of epitaxial graphene was described this week in the Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research has been supported by the National Science Foundation through the Georgia Tech Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the W.M. Keck Foundation.

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