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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SemiconductorThe next generation of feature-filled and energy-efficient electronics will require computer chips just a few atoms thick. For all its positive attributes, trusty silicon can’t take us to these ultrathin extremes.

With two new semiconductors, however, it may be possible.

Electrical engineers have identified two semiconductors—hafnium diselenide and zirconium diselenide—that share or go beyond some of silicon’s desirable traits, starting with the fact that all three materials can “rust.”

“It’s a bit like rust, but a very desirable rust,” says Eric Pop, an associate professor of electrical engineering, who coauthored with postdoctoral scholar Michal Mleczko a paper on the research that appears in the journal Science Advances.

The new materials can also be shrunk to functional circuits just three atoms thick and they require less energy than silicon circuits. Although still experimental, the researchers say the materials could be a step toward the kinds of thinner, more energy-efficient chips demanded by devices of the future.

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The Future of Electronics is Light

By: Arnab Hazari, University of Michigan

ElectronicsFor the past four decades, the electronics industry has been driven by what is called “Moore’s Law,” which is not a law but more an axiom or observation. Effectively, it suggests that the electronic devices double in speed and capability about every two years. And indeed, every year tech companies come up with new, faster, smarter and better gadgets.

Specifically, Moore’s Law, as articulated by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, is that “The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” Transistors, tiny electrical switches, are the fundamental unit that drives all the electronic gadgets we can think of. As they get smaller, they also get faster and consume less electricity to operate.

In the technology world, one of the biggest questions of the 21st century is: How small can we make transistors? If there is a limit to how tiny they can get, we might reach a point at which we can no longer continue to make smaller, more powerful, more efficient devices. It’s an industry with more than US$200 billion in annual revenue in the U.S. alone. Might it stop growing?

Getting close to the limit

At the present, companies like Intel are mass-producing transistors 14 nanometers across – just 14 times wider than DNA molecules. They’re made of silicon, the second-most abundant material on our planet. Silicon’s atomic size is about 0.2 nanometers.

Today’s transistors are about 70 silicon atoms wide, so the possibility of making them even smaller is itself shrinking. We’re getting very close to the limit of how small we can make a transistor.

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InSeNewly developed semiconductor materials are showing promising potential for the future of super-fast electronics.

A new study out of the University of Manchester details a new material called Indium Selenide (InSe). Like graphene, InSe if just a few atoms thick, but it differs from the “wonder material” in a few critical ways. While graphene has been hailed for its electronic properties, researchers state that it does not have an energy gap – making graphene behave more like a metal than a semiconductor.

Similarly, InSe can be nearly as thin as graphene while exhibiting electronic properties higher than that of silicon. Most importantly, InSe has a large energy gap, which could open the door to super-fast, next-gen electronic devices.

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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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Call for Papers: JSS Focus Issue

JSS CoverThis special issue of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology focuses on defect characterization in semiconductor materials and devices. We especially welcome papers in the following domains:

  • Structural, chemical, electrical and optical characterization of extended defects in semiconductor nano-structures and materials
  • Electrical and optical characterization of point defects in semiconductor nano-structures
  • Semiconductor-device-based defect analysis
  • Impact of (extended) defects on device and circuit operation and yield
  • Defect characterization and control in hetero-epitaxial layers and nano-structures grown on Si, comprising Ge, SiGe, GeSn, III-V and III-nitrides
  • Ab initio calculations and TCAD of the electrical activity of (extended) defects in semiconductor materials and devices
  • Defect control and mitigation strategies during hetero-epitaxial deposition

Find out more!

Submission Deadline | Oct. 21, 2015
Papers accepted into this focus issue are published online within 10 days of acceptance.
The issue is created online an article at a time with the final article published in March 2016.

Member Spotlight – Chennupati Jagadish

jagadishECS Fellow Chennupati Jagadish has been awarded the IEEE Nanotechnology Pioneer Award for his outstanding contributions to compound semiconductor nanowire and quantum dot optoelectronics.

Dr. Jagadish is a Laureate Fellow and Distinguished Professor at the Australian National University, where he has made major advances in compound semiconductor quantum dot and nanowire growth techniques and optoelectronic devices.

Previously, Dr. Jagadish was awarded the ECS Electronics and Photonics Division Award for his excellence in electronics research outstanding technical contribution to the field of electronics science.

Throughout his scientific career, Dr. Jagadish has published more than 620 research papers—some of which can be found in the Digital Library—and has 5 U.S. patents.

Some of Dr. Jagadish’s current research focuses on nanostructured photovoltaics, which provides novel concepts to produce a more efficient solar cell.

riceuniversity

Researchers were able to deform the molybdenum disulfide without breaking it.
Image: Nano Letters

Many labs have had their eye on molybdenum disulfide recently due to its promising semiconducting properties. Rice University has also turned its attention toward this 2D material and its interesting sandwich structure. During their studies, the researchers have concluded that under certain conditions, molybdenum disulfide can transform from the consistency of peanut brittle to that of taffy.

According to their research, the scientists state that when exposed to sulfur-infused gas at the right temperature and pressure, molybdenum disulfide takes on the qualities of plastic. This development has the potential to have a high impact in the world of materials science.

The structure of the molybdenum disulfide is similar to a sandwich, with layers of sulfur above and below the molybdenum atoms. When the two sheets join at different angles “defective” arrangements—or dislocations—are formed.

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