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New '3-D' transistors promising future chips, lighter laptops

iqun Liu; Roy Gordon, Harvard's Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Chemistry; and Ye.

Transistors contain critical components called gates, which enable the devices to switch on and off and to direct the flow of electrical current. In today's chips, the length of these gates is about 45 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. However, in 2012 industry will introduce silicon-based 3-D transistors having a gate length of 22 nanometers.

"Next year if you buy a computer it will have the 22-nanometer gate length and 3-D silicon transistors," Ye said.

The 3-D design is critical because the 22-nanometer gate lengths will not work in a flat design.

"Once you shrink gate lengths down to 22 nanometers on silicon you have to do more complicated structure design," Ye said. "The ideal gate is a necklike, gate-all-around structure so that the gate surrounds the transistor on all sides."

The nanowires are coated with a "dielectric," which acts as a gate. Engineers are working to develop transistors that use even smaller gate lengths, 14 nanometers, by 2015.

However, further size reductions beyond 14 nanometers and additional performance improvements are likely not possible using silicon, meaning new designs and materials will be needed to continue progress, Ye said.

"Nanowires made of III-V alloys will get us to the 10 nanometer range," he said.

The new findings confirmed that the device made using a III-V material has the potential to conduct electrons five times faster than silicon.

Creating smaller transistors also will require finding a new type of insulating layer essential for the devices to switch off. As gate lengths shrink smaller than 14 nanometers, the silicon dioxide insulator used in conventional transistors fails to perform properly and is said to "leak" electrical charge.

One potential solution to this leaking problem is to replace silicon dioxide with materials that have a h

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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