Using powerful supercomputers, engineers have found a way to generate microwaves with inexpensive silicon—a breakthrough that may cut costs and improve devices such as collision avoidance sensors in autonomous vehicles.
“Until now, this was considered impossible,” said C.R. Selvakumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo who proposed the concept several years ago.
Typically, the microwaves for these devices are generated by Gunn diodes, which utilize the properties of expensive (and toxic) semiconductors such as gallium arsenide. Increasing voltage applied to that material causes a sympathetic increase in electrical current, up until a point where the current decreases and the Gunn effect results in the emission of microwaves.
The engineers used computational nanotechnology to demonstrate that the same effect can be achieved using the second-most abundant substance on earth: silicon. Using silicon nanowires 100,000 times thinner than a human hair that are stretched as the voltage is applied induces the same Gunn effect and emission of microwaves.
“This is only the beginning,” said Selvakumar. “Now we will see where it goes, how it will ramify.”
To learn more about this project, click here.