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?


IBM’s New Chip Quadruples Capacity

In recent years, the semiconductor industry has struggled to keep up with the pace of the legendary Moore’s Law. With the current 14-nanometer generation of chips, researchers have begun to question if it will remain possible to double transistor density every two and a half years. However, IBM is now pushing away the doubt with the development of their new chip.

The new ultra-dense chip hosts seven-nanometer transistors, which yields about four times the capacity of our current computer chip. Like many other researchers in the field, IBM decided to move away for the traditional and expensive pure silicon toward a silicon-germanium hybrid material to produce the new chip.

The success of the high-capacity chip relies on the utilization of this new material. The use of silicon-germanium has made it possible for faster transistor switching and lower power requirements. And did we mention how impossibly small these transistors are?


New Material to Make Better Transistors

According to new research, black phosphorus may have the potential to outpace silicon.Image:

According to new research, black phosphorus may have the potential to outpace silicon.
Image: McGill University

We’re one step closer to atomic layer transistors due to recent research by a team of McGill University and Université de Montréal researchers. The new findings are the result of multidisciplinary work that yielded evidence that the material black phosphorus may make it possible to pack more transistors on a chip.

Researchers from McGill University joined with ECS’s Richard Martel in the Université de Montréal’s Department of Chemistry to examine if black phosphorus could tackle the prominent issue in the electronics field of designing energy-efficient transistors.

Similar to graphite, black phosphorus can be separate easily into single atomic layers to allow for thin transistors. When researchers are able to produce thinner transistors, they are also more efficient.


Nano-Transistor Assesses Health

The low

The ultra-low power sensor can scan the contents of liquids such as perspiration.
Image: EPFL/Jamani Caillet

Researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed an ultra-low power sensor to monitor health through the scanning of perspiration.

Director of Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory (Nanolab) at EPFL, Adrian Ionescu—ECS published author in both the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and ECS Transactions—states that the new sensor can sync to your mobile device to alert you of your hydration, stress, and fatigue levels.

“The ionic equilibrium in a person’s sweat could provide significant information on the state of his health,” says Ionescu. “Our technology detects the presence of elementary charged particles in ultra-small concentrations such as ions and protons, which reflects not only the pH balance of sweat but also more complex hydration of fatigues states. By an adapted functionalization I can also track different kinds of proteins.”


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.


ECS Podcast – Jon Gertner, Author

Our second episode of ECS Podcast features Jon Gertner, author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. Listen as we explore one of the most innovative institutions of the 20th century and how it revolutionized computing and information technology.

This episode of the ECS Podcast is available below and is free to download! (Also available through the iTunes Store and RSS Feed.)