RMIT ditches semiconductor for air channel transistor concept

Researchers are looking at replacing silicon with air.

Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT) have developed a proof of concept that is able to pass currents across an air channel rather than silicon.

The university said the new type of transistor is faster, less prone to heating up, and removes the use of any semiconductor.

"Every computer and phone has millions to billions of electronic transistors made from silicon, but this technology is reaching its physical limits where the silicon atoms get in the way of the current flow, limiting speed and causing heat," lead author of the research Shruti Nirantar said.

"Our air channel transistor technology has the current flowing through air, so there are no collisions to slow it down and no resistance in the material to produce heat."

Nirantar added that the research could be used to create "nano electronics" due to the limitations of silicon-based transistors.

"This technology simply takes a different pathway to the miniaturisation of a transistor in an effort to uphold Moore's Law for several more decades," Nirantar said.

In a paper, the team wrote that the air gaps used are under 35 nanometres, and that having a small channel allows for "vacuum-like carrier transport" under room temperature conditions.

"The gap is only a few tens of nanometers, or 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, but it's enough to fool electrons into thinking that they are travelling through a vacuum and re-create a virtual outer-space for electrons within the nanoscale air gap," research team leader Associate Professor Sharath Sriram said.

"This is a step towards an exciting technology which aims to create something out of nothing to significantly increase the speed of electronics and maintain pace of rapid technological progress."

Last month, the Australian National University (ANU) announced the invention of tiny diamond electronic parts it said has the potential to outperform devices currently in use.

Scientists from ANU, alongside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, developed a new type of ultra-thin diamond transistor that is in the proof of concept stage, with lead researcher Dr Zongyou Yin anticipating that diamond transistor technology could be ready for large-scale fabrication within three to five years.

Also in October, ANU announced the invention of a part-organic semiconductor, touting the development as paving the way for bendable devices.

The thin and flexible semiconductor is comprised of both organic and inorganic materials that ANU said can convert electricity into light very efficiently.

ANU explained that the organic component of the semiconductor has the thickness of just one atom and is made from just carbon and hydrogen. The inorganic component has the thickness of around two atoms.

The hybrid structure can convert electricity into light efficiently for displays on mobile phones, televisions, and other electronic devices, the university said.

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