Power Behind the Next Electronics Revolution

The semiconducting silicon chip brought about a wave of electronic transformation the propelled technology and forever changed the way society functions. We now live in a digital world, where almost everything we encounter on a daily basis is comprised of a mass of silicon integrated circuits (IC) and transistors. But with the materials used to develop and improve these devices being pushed to their limits, the question of the future of electronics arises.

The Beginnings

The move towards a digital age really took flight late in 1947 at Bell Labs when a little device known as the transistor was developed. After this development, Gordon Moore became a pioneering research in the field of electronics and coined Moore’s law in 1965, which dictated that transistor density would double every two years.

Just over 50 years after that prediction, Moore’s law is still holding true. However, researchers and engineers are beginning to hit a bit of a roadblock. Current circuit measurement are coming in a 2nm wide—equating to a size roughly between a red blood cell and a single strand of DNA. Because the integrated circuits are hitting their limit in size, it’s becoming much more difficult to continue the projected growth of Moore’s law.

The question then arises of how do we combat this problem; or do we move toward finding an alternative to silicon itself? What are the true limits of technology?

Limitations of Silicon

With all of silicon’s positive attributes, the material still has its drawbacks.

This from The Conversation:

A great advantage of combining more and more transistors into a single chip is that it enables an IC to process information faster. But this speed boost depends critically on how easily electrons are able to move within the semiconductor material. This is known as electron mobility, and while electrons in silicon are quite mobile, they are much more so in other semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide, indium arsenide, and indium antimonide.

Read the full article here.

Additionally, silicon degrades at high temperatures. When looking at high-power applications, silicon struggles to perform.

The Next Electronics Revolution

Researchers are looking at a few alternative to silicon. Among the most promising are germanium, silicon dioxide, graphene, and III-V compound materials. Taking these materials and combining them in certain formations could potentially produce a higher performance than silicon with a better electron hole mobility. However, the logistics of combining these materials is proving to be difficult.

Despite all of this, researchers believe that the limits of technology have not yet been encountered and there is still much more room for growth and innovation.

“In the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to feel uncomfortable to say relevant,” said Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

While the question of the continuation of Moore’s law may still be up in the air, the ingenuity of scientists across the globe is not.

“Growth and comfort do not co-exist,” said Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM.

Head over to the ECS Digital Library to see current research in the area of silicon.

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