The atoms in the new structure are arranged in a hexagonal pattern as in graphene, but that is where the similarity ends. The three elements forming the new material all have different sizes; the bonds connecting the atoms are also different. As a result, the sides of the hexagons formed by these atoms are unequal, unlike in graphene. Madhu Menon

Wonder material graphene has yet another competitor which is as strong, stable, conducts electricity and comes with a big advantage for the digital world -- it can be tweaked into a semiconductor. The new material discovered by a physicist at University of Kentucky is made of light, inexpensive and abundantly found elements.

The new one atom-thick flat material is made up of silicon, boron and nitrogen and is extremely stable, according to the research reported in Physical Review B, Rapid Communication. The material did not break even at 1,000 degree C in theoretical computations.

Madhu Menon from the UK Center for Computational Sciences worked in collaboration with scientists from Daimler in Germany and the Institute for Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL) in Greece to simulate the bond structure of the material.

"We know that silicon-based technology is reaching its limit because we are putting more and more components together and making electronic processors more and more compact," Menon said. "But we know that this cannot go on indefinitely; we need smarter materials."

Graphene alternatives developed to function as semiconductors belong to a class of three-layer materials called transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs). But these are much bulkier than graphene and often made of rare and expensive materials. This is where the new material scores over the lot and graphene.

In addition, the presence of silicon aids in integration of the material with many silicon-based technology as also creation of new smart materials by addition of other elements. The new material which is metallic can be made semiconducting easily by attaching other elements on top of the silicon atoms.

However, while there are many ways to combine silicon, boron and nitrogen to form planar structures, only one specific arrangement of these elements resulted in a stable structure.
Experimental confirmation of the material's properties are awaited.

Graphene, made of a single layer of carbon atoms, is strong, light and flexible. It conducts electricity better than copper and is 200 times stronger than steel. But it is severely constrained in semi-conductor applications.

Stanene, made of tin atoms, is yet another strong contender for a wonder 2D material like phosphorene, silicene or germanene.