AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- In the worlds of chemistry and material science, thin is in. Squeeze, shave and press a chemical element into a one-atom-thick sheet, add the suffix "ene" to the end, and you've got a new material sure to posses industrial and technological applications.
First it was graphene, promising to revolutionize everything from medecine to electronics. Now, it's silicene -- a sheet of silicon, one atom thick -- vowing to make computers chips even faster.
Like carbon and graphene, silicon organizes into a neat honeycomb like atomic structure when squeezed into its thinnest form. This makes for exceptional electrical conductivity.
It's application in the construction of computer chips could improve speed and efficiency. Many companies in Silicon Valley have been looking to develop new materials for computer chips, as silicon seemed to have reached a performance ceiling.
Silicene transistors could quickly become a favorite in the Valley, researchers say, as it is so similar to the material that turned Northern California into the heart of America's tech boom.
"If we can get good properties out of it, it can be translated immediately by the semiconductor industry," Deji Akinwande, a computer engineer at the University of Texas at Austin, told the MIT Technology Review.
Akinwande has developed a variety of techniques for producing and working with the delicate yet stubborn material.
Still, silicene remains especially difficult to grow in a lab, and some scientists question whether it is (or ever will be) ready for industrial application or commercial adoption. It is corrupted almost as soon as it formed, and must be thoroughly protected as it is adapted to its application.
But other researchers say Akinwande's demonstration of a silicene transistor is likely to encourage other scientists to try working with the material.
"Nobody could have expected that in such a short time, something that didn't exist could make a transistor," Guy Le Lay, a materials scientist at Aix-Marseille University in France, told Nature.
"Now that a device has been made," Le Lay said, "other scientists will see it is not a dream material, it is a practical thing."