Machine Design

Long Live the Microelectronics Revolution

Some engineers estimate that within the next decade we will reach the limit, in terms of size and performance, of the silicon transistors that let the microelectronics industry keep up with consumer demand.

Julie Kalista
Online Editor

A cross sectional view of the indium gallium arsenide transistor fabricated at MIT. The critical dimension is 60 nanometers, similar to that of state-of-the-art silicon transistors.
The indium gallium arsenide transistor fabricated at MIT is shown from above.
Don't worry too much, though researchers are on it. "We are looking at new semiconductor materials for transistors that will let us improve performance as devices get smaller," said Jesus del Alamo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusettes Institute of Technology.

One such group of materials is a family known as III-V compound semiconductors that are composites. One hot prospect in that group is indium gallium arsenide, or InGaAs, a material that lets electrons travel faster than silicon and more current is the key to faster operation. MIT researchers built InGaAs transistors that can carry 2.5 times more current than state-of-the-art silicon. Each quantum-well InGaAs transistor measures only 60 nm long, smaller than the most advanced 65-nm silicon transistors.

Some of the challenges with this new technology include manufacturing transistors in large quantities because InGaAs is more prone to breaking than silicon. "With more work, this technology could surpass silicon and let the microelectronics revolution continue well into the future," says del Alamo.

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