SemiconductorScientists have figured out how to make tiny individual films—each just a few atoms high—and stack them for use in new kinds of electronics.

Over the past half-century, scientists have shaved silicon films down to just a wisp of atoms in pursuit of smaller, faster electronics. For the next set of breakthroughs, though, they’ll need new ways to build even tinier and more powerful devices.

In a study that appears in Nature, researchers describe an innovative method to make stacks of thin, uniform layers of semiconductors just a few atoms thick which could expand capabilities for devices like solar cells and cell phones.

Stacking thin layers of materials offers a range of possibilities for making electronic devices with unique properties. But manufacturing them is a delicate process, with little room for error, researchers say.

“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any air bubbles in it,” says Jiwoong Park, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago and at the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem.”

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Making the New Silicon

Shown here is the smallest laptop power adapter ever, made using GaN transistors.
Image: Cambridge Electronics

Recent discussions in the electronics industry have revolved around the future of technology in light of the perceived end of Moore’s law. But what if the iconic law doesn’t have to end? Researchers from MIT believe they have exactly what it takes to keep up with the constantly accelerating pace of Moore’s law.

More efficient materials

For the scientists, the trick is in the utilization of a material other than silicon in semiconductors for power electronics. With extremely high efficiency levels that could potentially reduce worldwide energy consumption, some believe that material could be gallium nitride (GaN).

MIT spin-out Cambridge Electronics Inc. (CEI) has recently produced a line of GaN transistors and power electronic circuits. The goal is to cut energy usage in data centers, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent worldwide by 2025.

Semiconductors shaping society

Since its discovery in 1947, the transistor has helped make possible many wonders of modern life – including smartphones, solar cells, and even airplanes.

Over time, as predicted by Moore’s law, transistors became smaller and more efficient at an accelerated pace – opening doors to even more technological advancements.

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The Death of Moore’s Law

The future of technology

The iconic Moore’s law has guided Silicon Valley and the technology industry at large for over 50 years. Moore’s prediction that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years (which he first articulated at an ECS meeting in 1964) bolstered businesses and the economy, as well as took society away from the giant mainframes of the 1960s to today’s era of portable electronics.

But research has begun to plateau and keeping up with the pace of Moore’s law has proven to be extremely difficult. Now, many tech-based industries find themselves in a vulnerable position, wondering how far we can push technology.

Better materials, better chips

In an effort to continue Moore’s law and produce the next generation of electronic devices, researchers have begun looking to new materials and potentially even new designs to create smaller, cheaper, and faster chips.

“People keep saying of other semiconductors, ‘This will be the material for the next generation of devices,’” says Fan Ren, professor at the University of Florida and technical editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology. “However, it hasn’t really changed. Silicon is still dominating.”

Silicon has facilitated the growth predicted by Moore’s law for the past decades, but it is now becoming much more difficult to continue that path.

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Nanostructures

Nanostructures on the surface of the fabric.
Image: Queensland University of Technology

Oil spills have had an extensive history of disrupting the environment, killing ecosystems, and displacing families. Impacts of massive oil spills are still felt in many parts of the world, including the undersea spill at the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that dumped an approximate 39 million gallons of oil into the gulf.

But what if these devastating oil spills could be easily cleaned up with a piece of fabric rooted in electrochemistry?

That may be a reality soon thanks to researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). According to a release, the QUT researchers have developed a multipurpose fabric covered with semi-conducting nanostructures that can both mop up oil and degrade organic matter when exposed to light.

(READ: “Superhydrophobic Fabrics for Oil/Water Separation Based on the Metal-Organic Charge-Transfer Complex CuTCNAQ“)

The fabric, which repels water and attracts oil, has already has promising preliminary results. In the early stages of research, the scientists have already been able to mop up crude oil from the surface of both fresh and salt water.

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The iconic Moore’s law has predicted the technological growth of the chip industry for more than 50 years. When ECS member and co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore proposed the law, he stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two years. So far, he’s been correct.

But researchers have started hitting an apex that makes keeping the pace of Moore’s law extremely difficult. It has become harder in recent years to make transistors smaller while simultaneously increasing the processing power of chips, making it almost impossible to continue Moore’s law’s projected growth.

However, researchers from MIT have developed a long-awaited tool that may be able to keep driving that progress.

(READ: “Moore’s Law and the Future of Solid-State Electronics“)

The new technology that hopes to keep Moore’s law going at its current pace is called extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. Industry leaders say it could be used in high-volume chip manufacturing as early as 2018, allowing continued growth in the semiconductor industry, with advancements in our mobile phones, wearable electronics, and many other gadgets.

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Andy GroveBusinessman, author, and one of the foremost minds behind the development of the semiconductor, Andy Grove, passed away on Monday at the age of 79.

Technological giant

During his three decades with Intel, Grove helped transform the chip-making colossus into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors. He grew with the company as it obtained more and more success, acting as Intel’s president in 1979 and becoming CEO in 1987.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of former Intel Chairman and CEO Andy Grove,” said current Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in a news release. “Andy made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.”

Many considered Grove as one of the giants in the world of technology, leaving his mark on everything from memory chips to the digital revolution at large. Without Grove’s contributions to the development of the semiconductor, much of modern life would be very different. Items such as handheld electronics, LED displays, and even solar cells would not exist if not for the semiconductor.

(MORE: Learn about how semiconductors shape society.)

Grove’s influence on ECS

Here at ECS, Grove’s contributions to technology have helped shape some of our divisions and topical interest areas. In 2013, the Society established the Bruce Deal & Andy Grove Young Author Award to recognize the best paper published in the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology (JSS) by a young author. The award was named in Deal, another Fairchild employee, and Grove’s honor for a seminal paper that was published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society (JES) describing the Deal-Grove model, which is used to analyze thermal oxidation of silicon in semiconductor device fabrication and has had a lasting influence on the semiconductor technology industry.

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New Semiconductor Material for Faster Electronics

The newly developed semiconductor material could eventually lead to electronic devices that are 100 percent faster.
Image: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

Thanks to a new development in semiconducting materials, our electronics may soon be faster all while consuming a lot less power.

The semiconductor is comprised of tin and oxygen and is only one atom thick, which allows electrical charges to move very quickly – much faster than comparable materials, such as silicon. This material also differs from conventional 3D materials, as it is 2D. The benefit of this material being 2D lies in the reduction of layers and thickness, thus allowing electronics to move faster.

This material has the ability to be applied to transistors, which are central to the majority of electronic devices.

This from the University of Utah:

While researchers in this field have recently discovered new types of 2D material such as graphene, molybdenun disulfide and borophene, they have been materials that only allow the movement of N-type, or negative, electrons. In order to create an electronic device, however, you need semiconductor material that allows the movement of both negative electrons and positive charges known as “holes.” The tin monoxide material discovered by Tiwari and his team is the first stable P-type 2D semiconductor material ever in existence.

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Building Better Electronic Devices

The development of the silicon chip forever changed the field of electronics and the world at large. From computers to cellphones to digital home appliances, the silicon chip has become an inextricable part of the structure of our society. However, as silicon begins to reach its limits many researchers are looking for new materials to continue the electronics revolution.

Fan Ren, Distinguished Professor at the University of Florida and Technical Editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology, has based his career in the field of electronics and semiconductor devices. From his time at Bell Labs through today, Ren has witnessed much change in the field.

Future of Electronics

Upon coming to the United States from Taiwan, Ren was hired by Bell Labs. This hub of innovation had a major impact on Ren and his work, and is where he first got his hands-on semiconductor research. During this time, silicon was the major player as far as electronic materials went. While electronics have transformed since that time, the materials used to create integrated circuits have essentially stayed the same.

People keep saying of other semiconductors, “This will be the material for the next generation of devices,” says Ren. “However, it hasn’t really changed. Silicon is still dominating.”

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Three Atom Thick Transistor

A new study by two ECS published authors, David Muller and Jiwoong Park, has led to an electronic piece that is just three atoms thick.

The researchers have unveiled a process to develop ultra-thin transistors made from TMD, otherwise known as transition metal dichalcogenide. This material is novel in the fact that it possesses properties that make it a perfect fit for solar cells, light detectors, or semiconductors.

Researchers have been examining TMDs for some time now, but have been finding it difficult to get them to work consistently. This new study has discovered the best process yet to manufacture the materials, which could lead to a breakthrough in the future of electronics and possibly bring about an end to Moore’s law.

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50 Years of Moore’s Law

mooreThe iconic Moore’s Law will mark its 50th anniversary this Sunday, April 19th. In celebration, we’ll be taking a look at the solid state revolutionary who made the incredible prediction, the inception of the law, and the deep-rooted links between Gordon Moore and The Electrochemical Society.

The initial transformation in the electronics industry began with an invention at Bell Labs in late 1947 of a little device known as the transistor. The transistor acted as a catalyst of change not only for solid state science and the electronics industry, but also for the composition and spirit of ECS membership—which would begin to be centered on the Electronics Division.

Prior to this solid state surge, electronics—specifically the Electronics Division at ECS—was centered on topics such as phosphors and cathode ray tubes in light of the advent of television. Moore joined ECS in 1957 and helped transform the division into something new—something exciting.

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