Super-Fast Transistor Could Speed Quicker Electron Chips

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have developed a super-fast transistor, the building block of computer chips, that they say could have applications ranging from aiding in medical diagnoses to reducing the power consumption of cell phones.

The microscopic transistor can process more than 600 billion operations a second — or 600 GHz — at peak speed, a maximum operating speed of 604 Ghz. The previous record was 560 GHz. Transistors used in commercial chips today operate at 60-100 GHz. Information can be processed only as quickly as the transistors allow.

Working Toward 1 THz

“The ultimate goal of this project is to develop devices operating in Thz [trillion hertz] bandwidths,” researcher Walid Hafez told TechNewsWorld.

“Such devices would be extremely useful for aiding in the detection of potentially harmful gases, as well as in medical imaging applications. The far-infrared wavelength radiation emitted by the transistors is able to penetrate skin and provide an image of what lies underneath. These devices can also be used to reduce the power consumption of wireless devices such as cellular phones, and to enhance the speed of fiber optic communications.”

Researcher/Professor Milton Feng and Hafez, a doctoral candidate, first worked out a way to create thinner vertical layers of material, which reduces the time it takes electrons to travel from one side to the other. Their most recent advance came about by changing the composition of the semiconductor layers. The transistor uses the chemicals indium phosphide and indium gallium arsenide semiconductors.

Not There Yet

Feng and Hafez still face significant obstacles to building a useful chip. The manufacturing process is difficult and expensive.

“As we approach the physical performance limits of the indium phosphide/indium gallium arsenide material system and the limits of our fabrication equipment, the tradeoffs involved in each modification become much more significant, and perfect execution of each step in the fabricationprocess becomes critical,” Hafez said, adding that any variation in the production would render the transistors useless.

The researchers will next try to put together a functional circuit based on these individual transistors. The circuit will eventually be integrated into high-speed signal processing chips, he said.

The far-reaching goal is to create a chip that can be manufactured at a price only slightly above that of silicon chips, but with a much higher capacity to process information.

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