125 Stanford Stories

NO. 117

A chip three atoms thick

Stanford prototype raises the possibility of transparent electronics

What if engineers could build chips three atoms thick?

Car windshields could double as dashboards and windows could hold televisions, because the electronics would be transparent.

Now, a Stanford team led by electrical engineering Associate Professor Eric Pop has created a prototype chip of just that thickness and described how such a chip might be mass-produced in the future.

The advance hinges on using materials other than the silicon used to make conventional chips, and on milling them at nanoscale with a large enough surface area to form a circuit component.

The Stanford team’s chip is of an ultrathin but efficient material called molybdenum disulfide – a sheet of molybdenum atoms between two atom-thick sheets of sulfide. The breadth of a thumbnail, it’s 25 million times wider than it is thick.

The team then characterized how to etch electronic circuits into the ultrathin material. Finally, they’ve begun modeling the chips’ collective behavior as circuitry.

Just for fun, the team etched Stanford’s Block S emblem onto one of the chips.

“We have a lot of work ahead to scale this process into circuits with larger scales and better performance,” Pop told the Stanford News Service. “But we now have all the building blocks.”