A material breakthrough

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A material breakthrough

The world’s largest chip maker, Samsung Electronics, and its research team made a major breakthrough by coming up with new conductive nanotechnology - a material capable of powering a new generation of wearable and flexible electronics. Korea has long been a powerhouse in semiconductor and silicon technology. But Korean manufacturers are facing fierce competition, especially from China. Researchers around the world are in a race to pursue alternative materials in chip-making because circuits on silicon chips cannot be physically narrowed to five nanometers.

A team from Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Sungkyunkwan University may have triumphed in that race. They developed a simple manufacturing method of synthesizing graphene to make a potential “wonder” material. Graphene is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms and is touted for its potential to replace silicon in computer chips. The material is more than 100 times stronger than steel and allows electrons to travel 100 times faster than copper and silicon. But because it occurs in a jumble of broken chunks, placing them in a single sheet has been tricky. Laboratory experiments made little progress since its discovery in 2010, which won the Noble Prize, because graphene lost much of its unusual characteristics at the stage of mass production. The Samsung-Sungkyunkwan team succeeded in placing graphene onto one large layer forming an unbroken flat crystal. The crystal can be removed easily and reused without any distortion of the unique characteristics of graphene.

There are still many challenges before the technology can be commercialized and incorporated into the making of flexible displays. Still, as wafers helped to build Korea into a powerhouse in silicon memory chips, the graphene processors may work to sustain Korea’s edge in the field for the coming century.

The feat underscores the fact that research and development is the only way to survive in a world of global competition. Korean companies have beaten Japanese rivals through their persistent pursuit of new technology. But they, too, can easily be caught up to by latecomers. In order to stay ahead in prices and technology, Korean companies, universities and the government must join together to create new developments. The recent breakthrough is a byproduct of an academic-industrial partnership. If researchers in universities continue to work with Korea Inc., we may hear a stream of news on more scientific and technological advancements.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 5, Page 30

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