Ultrathin Semiconductor Materials have Potential to Replace Silicon

Stanford University

August, 2017
Ultrathin Semiconductor Materials have Potential to Replace Silicon
In this greatly enlarged cross-section of an experimental chip, the bands of black and white reveal alternating layers of hafnium diselenide – an ultrathin semiconductor material – and the hafnium dioxide insulator. The cross-section matches an overlaid color schematic on the right. (Image credit: Michal Mleczko)

With increasingly feature-filled and energy-efficient portable devices on the horizon, the computer chips within are required to be no more than a few atoms thick, leading to challenges that silicon cannot currently meet.

Electrical engineers at Stanford University have identified two semiconductors – hafnium diselenide and zirconium diselenide – that offer or even surpass some of silicon’s alluring characteristics.

“Engineers have been unable to make silicon transistors thinner than about five nanometers, before the material properties begin to change in undesirable ways,” said Eric Pop, an associate professor of electrical engineering, who co-authored with post-doctoral scholar Michal Mleczko a paper that appears in the journal Science Advances.

The new materials can be shrunk to functional circuits just three atoms thick and they require far less energy than existing silicon circuits. Although still experimental, the team said the materials could be a step towards the thinner and more energy-efficient chips that are demanded by devices of the future.

“Silicon won’t go away. But for consumers this could mean much longer battery life and much more complex functionality if these semiconductors can be integrated with silicon,” Pop explained. “There’s more research to do, but a new path to thinner, smaller circuits – and more energy-efficient electronics – is within reach.”

To learn more about this ongoing project, click here.

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