Over the last few years, you'd struggle to have not at least heard mention of an extremely strong, electrically- and thermally-conductive, one-atom thick material called graphene. But now, researchers at the University of Kentucky are looking to create a new material that might just boast even more impressive and useful attributes.

The new material is made up of a mixture of silicon, nitrogen and boron, coming together to form a one atom-thick, hexagonal structure, very similar to that of graphene. All those materials are widely available, inexpensive and lightweight, and the finished material is extremely stable – theoretically at least. The researchers used computer simulations to try and get the bonds between the different base materials to disintegrate, but found they held strong, even at temperatures of 1,000º C (1,832º F).

While the structure of the new material is hexagonal – just like graphene – the different sizes of the elements used means that results in a less uniform structure, with uneven sides. However, while it might not be quite as uniform, it does have some significant benefits over graphene. Most notably, it can easily be turned into a semiconductor by attaching other elements on top of the silicon atoms.

The inclusion of silicon atoms in the material would also make it easier to integrate the material with current silicon-based technologies. This would avoid the need for a sudden shift in materials, instead allowing the industry to slowly move away from silicon, easing the switch to smarter, more versatile materials.

At this point, the novel material only exists in a theoretical sense, with the researchers using computers at the University of Kentucky's Center for Computational Science to perform the complex calculations. The team is now working with researchers at the University of Louisville to create the material under laboratory conditions.

"We are very anxious for this to be made in the lab," said team member Madhu Menon. "The ultimate test of any theory is experimental verification, so the sooner the better."

The researchers published their work in the journal Physical Review B, Rapid Communication.

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