Machine Design

GaN transistor likes it hot

Move over silicon. A new gallium-nitride (GaN) transistor offers the promise of low-power consumption and high efficiency in high-power, high-temperature electronics such as motor drives for hybrid vehicles, appliances, and defense equipment.

Developed by Weixiao Huang, a 2008 doctoral graduate from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the new transistor has already captured the attention of some of the biggest American and Japanese auto companies. A critical component in many electr

onic controls is a silicon metallicoxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (Si MOSFET). It acts as a switch, allowing or disallowing current to flow through the device.

Engineers know that GaN and other gallium-based materials have extremely good electrical properties, much better than silicon. But the major stumbling block to creating GaN MOSFETs has been in developing the GaN Mos interface. The prototype transistor exhibited by Huang already performs better than silicon MOSFETs. In addition, Huang claims his design can combine several important electronic functions onto one chip. GaN MOSFETs consume less power, require smaller chip sizes, and provide higher power densities to simplify entire electronic systems.

GaN transistors can let electronic systems operate in extremely hot, harsh, and high-power environments and even where radiation is present. The first GaN MOSFET has already shown world-record performance. Huang has also designed and experimentally demonstrated several novel high-voltage MOS-gated FET transistors with better performance than Si.

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