How Can We Make Computers Out of Carbon and Water?

Senior Contributor
11.01.10

Ahhhh, computers, reliable both for doing exactly what you tell them to, even if that’s not what you want at all, and being made out of silicon. But that last won’t hold, although they will continue to be annoyingly literal things.

A scientist at RPI, the awesomely named Doctor Nikhil Karatkar, has been messing around with graphene, the wonder form of carbon derived from graphite, which you probably know best as frakkin’ pencil lead. So how has the stuff that got all over your fingers in elementary school useful for computers?

Well, it’s pretty simple. By its lonesome, graphene actually makes a lousy transistor, because it’s an excellent conductor of electricity. What Karatkar discovered is that if you place a layer of graphene on a layer of silicon and silicon dioxide (that’s sand to you) and then hose it with water, it disrupts graphene’s ability to conduct electricity.

In other words, with precisely controlled humidity, graphene can be used to made semiconductors. And tiny ones, too, since graphene is only an atom thick.

We’re a long way away from computers made of spray bottles and pencil lead, but at least now we know it’s possible. Also that a dude named Nikhil Karatkar is out there, and probably awesome.

[ via io9 ]

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