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By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko, associate researcher

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko shows off a device with the transistor embedded

Researchers have built the world’s smallest transistor – one atom thick and 10 atoms wide – out of a material that could one day replace silicon.

The transistor, essentially an on/off switch, has been made using graphene, a two-dimensional material first discovered only four years ago.

Graphene is a single layer of graphite, which is found in the humble pencil.

The transistor is the key building block of microchips and the basis for almost all electronics.

Dr Kostya Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim from The School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester have been leading research into the potential application of graphene in electronics and were the first to separate a sheet of the material from graphite

Super material

Graphene has been hailed as a super material because it has many potential applications. It is a flat molecule, with only the thickness of an atom, and both very stable and robust.

The researchers are also looking at its use in display technology – because it is transparent.

The Manchester-based scientists have shown that graphene can be carved into tiny electronic circuits with individual transistors not much larger than a molecule.

Dr Novoselov told BBC News that graphene had many advantages over silicon because it could conduct electricity faster and further.

Silicon will be replaced by graphene
Dr Kostya Novoselov

“These transistors will work and work at ambient, room temperature conditions – just what is required for modern electronics,” he said.

Dr Novoselov said graphene was a “wonderful conductor”, making it a perfect material for chip applications.

“It is already superior to silicon by an order of magnitude and comparable to the best samples of other materials.

“We believe we can increase this mobility of electron flow 10-fold.”

Graphene is a hot topic among semiconductor researchers at the moment because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. Unlike silicon graphene transistors perform better the smaller they become.

Leak electricity

The global semiconductor business is currently built on sand; stamping out microchips from large silicon wafers.

Companies like Intel have a roadmap to reduce the size of circuits on the silicon wafer, down to about 10 nanometres – 10,000 times smaller than the width of a single human hair.

Many researchers believe that producing circuits smaller than 10 nanometres in silicon will be too difficult because they start to leak electricity at that size.

That current silicon roadmap is expected to end in 2020, making the race to find alternative materials potentially very lucrative.

Producing graphene sheets big enough to be used as wafers for chip production remained the biggest hurdle, said Dr Novoselov.

“We can control the cut down to 20 nanometres. And then when we have to scale down to one nanometre we use a bit of luck.

“The yield of the working devices is about 50%.”

Many researchers around the world are working on creating large wafers of graphene.

In order to produce microchips wafers would need to be several inches across. The biggest wafer produced so far is 100 microns across, just a tenth of a millimetre.

Electron microscope view of the graphene transistor

Short and narrow constrictions in graphene can act as high-quality transistors

“I do believe we will find the technology to do this. And when we do silicon will be replaced by graphene,” said Dr Novoselov.

Professor Bob Westervelt, in an assessment of the material and its future application in the journal Science, wrote: “Graphene is an exciting new material with unusual properties that are promising for nanoelectronics.

“The future should be very interesting.”

Dr Novoselov added: “Given the material was first obtained by us four years ago, we are making good progress.”

He said the process of using graphene to build circuits was very compatible with silicon technology.

“At the moment we use all the same steps to make a transistor as is done by the silicon industry. So once we have large wafers of graphene it should be straightforward to use the same process.”

But it might be another 10 years before the first integrated circuits on graphene chips appear, he said.

Shorter term

In the shorter term graphene could be used in LCD displays to replace materials used to create transparent conductive coatings.

“The computer screen relies on good transparent conductors. But current materials are expensive and hard to produce.

“Graphene is only one atom thin so is absolutely transparent – it’s a really wonderful conductor.

“We propose to use it as a transparent conductor, using small interconnecting graphene sheets all together.”

The material is also being touted for use in solar panels, transparent window coatings and also for sensing technologies.

Dr Kostya Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim from The School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester presented their findings in the 17 April issue of Science.

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$12 million system to create database to store all patient information

Hospital staff at West Georgia Health System in LaGrange soon can view patients’ medical histories, confirm patients’ identities and allergies and coordinate X-rays, lab tests and treatment without using a scrap of paper.

The more streamlined operations are one benefit to come with a new advanced health information technology system it is beginning to implement this month, a $12 million system designed by MEDITECH, leading provider of health information systems. The system creates a centralized database of patient medical information and enables officials to automate many clinical, financial and administrative functions.

President/CEO Jerry Fulks said such technology will become increasingly important for the hospital.

“Better tools, better information and better ways of sharing information will be critical in connecting the health-care community and insuring the safest, best-possible care for the patients we serve,” Fulks said.

Less than 13 percent of Georgia’s 170-plus hospitals have implemented such systems, according to the Georgia Health Information Exchange, an organization dedicated to the widespread adoption of health information technology. West Georgia Health System is an early adopter and the first health system nationwide to implement MEDITECH’s newest generation of software, Client/Server 6.0, a system designed for reliability, performance and secure, remote access. The health system is a pilot site for the new technology platform.

Early implementation began this month and includes most of the system’s core components. The health system added substantial hardware in preparation, including nearly 90 additional personal computers throughout the hospital, including tablet personal computers for physician use.

Instead of gathering patient information on paper, nursing staff will use these mobile devices to log onto the new system and record a list of patients’ medications, allergies and other critical information at the point of care.

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By Anuradha Shukla
TMCnet Contributing Editor


Access Commerce announced Monday that it signed a significant new contract in December 2007 with SFR (NewsAlert), the French telecommunications operator.

SFR has picked Cameleon to configure commercial service offerings as part of a project to improve invoicing and product management systems. Cameleon will be used by multiple SFR sales channels including the company’s online store, call centers and in 750 SFR-branded retail outlets.
Jacques Soumeillan, president and CEO of Access Commerce, said in a statement that this important new customer win once again demonstrates the relevance, fit and strategic value that Cameleon provides to companies selling services, which represents a major growth opportunity for Access Commerce.
Soumeillan explained that by using Cameleon, their customers reduce time-to-market for new products and make it easier to sell them through any sales channel—field sales reps, call centers, retail stores, distributors or customer self-service.
According to Access Commerce, this contract with SFR comes on top of the previously reported 19 percent growth in the Cameleon business during the first three quarters of 2007. The company believes this deal has the potential to produce significant additional revenue for Access Commerce in the coming years.
SFR is a first tier operator owned by Vivendi and Vodafone (NewsAlert), with more than 18 million customers and revenue of 8.6 billion Euros ($12.4 billion dollars) in 2006.
Access Commerce is an international provider of E-Commerce and Configurator software. The company’s Cameleon Commerce Suite helps enterprises sell products and services through multiple sales channels and provides a common point of order capture across the enterprise.
The product suite optimizes complex selling and ordering processes by orchestrating core business functions that include e-commerce, electronic catalog and guided selling, product and service configuration, advanced pricing and promotions, quote and proposal generation, and order management.

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