Scientists are developing graphene-based electric conductors which may pave the way for faster and more economical electronic devices.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Physics discovered that unlike other metal-based conductors, graphene-based conductors behave like optical waves when transporting electricity, enabling the electrons to flow seamlessly through the material. Graphene makes ballistic transport possible, a property by which electrons travel smoothly without creating resistance with the material even at room temperature.

According to Professor Walt de Heer, the electronic transport that graphene conductors can facilitate is as fast as the speed that the superconductors can do. In earlier studies, attempts of creating graphene-based conductors were unsuccessful due to the insufficient bandgap that the material needs to function effectively. The researchers decided not to compare graphene with silicon, but rather focused on the unique properties that it has in transporting electron molecules.

"This work shows that we can control graphene electrons in very different ways because the properties are really exceptional," said de Heer in a press release.

The researchers used graphene nanoribbons measuring 40 nanometer-wide and these were grown on three dimensional structures. The 3D structures, on the other hand, were planted into silicon-carbide wafers to facilitate electronic transport. After setting up the graphene-based conductor, the team measured the ballistic transport properties.

The nanoribbons were made to grow above the silicon carbide wafers. After heating the water to at most 1000 degrees Celsius, the silicon flowed along the edges of the conductor, giving rise to smooth edges that will enable the uninterrupted flow of the electrons through the material.

"It seems that the current is primarily flowing on the edges," de Heer stated. "There are other electrons in the bulk portion of the nanoribbons, but they do not interact with the electrons flowing at the edges."

The study was published in the Feb. 5 issue of Nature.