A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has succeeded in shrinking a layer from a semiconductor into an even smaller object. Their discovery could lead to more efficient circuits in future, leading to new computing and communication technology that can be integrated into future smartphones and wearable devices.
This research was published today in the scientific journal Nature, and it was developed by a collective effort of more than 40 scientists and engineers. The researchers created a material that mimics what happens when a thin film of electrons is condensed into a liquid crystal. As the liquid is condensed, it is slowly pulled back into an initial state, called an insulator. As the electrons in the liquid crystallize into electrons and holes, their kinetic energy is removed. If they were re-emitted at a higher voltage, they would have the momentum to leave a new, lower, layer which acts like a supercapacitor, and is used to store electrons that do not have enough kinetic energy to make it to the next phase. “The insulator state starts out in very tiny concentrations,” explains co-author and MIT professor of electrical engineering Rajiv K. Gupta.
The process is not new. In the 1930s, an engineer named Arthur H. Paulson of the University of Michigan worked out a method of shrinking transistors so that they became imperceptible, but could be processed. But the technology only worked at very small sizes — for example, a couple hundredths of an inch. The new MIT-led research, published by a collaboration between the two universities, is the first time the technique has been used for more than one layer.
“The ability to shrink material at lower temperatures and densities and yet maintain the electrical properties you see as a single-layer, makes the technique promising for a number of applications,” explains co-author Daniel R. Levesque, who is the Robert S. Pritzker Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “The ability to use semiconductors instead of insulators will make the system more affordable for larger applications.”
The new material may also make computers and electronic devices much lighter. In a conventional computer, computer chips are made of transistors, an array of conductors that connect together in the same way that wires connect together in a power supply. Transistors are relatively thin and require a significant amount of energy to operate. But if the circuits are made out of crystals, in which electrons do not need to be carried away by
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