Metal-air transistor will extend Moore's law - how technology works

    Australian experts presented a metal-air transistor, the principle of which resembles the work of vacuum transistors. We tell what the essence of technology.

    / Photo by Marcin Wichary PD / Visualization of Moore's Law in the Scientific Museum in Paderborn / Photo Cropped

    Why did this technology come about?

    It is believed that Moore's law has lost its relevance. The past few years, the density of transistors on a chip does not increase as quickly as before. Although the transition from the technical process to the technical process, it still grows about two times , the development of new methods of "packaging" transistors is delayed. Intel has been postponing the mass release of 10-nm Ice Lake processors for several years ( they should be expected no earlier than 2020 ).

    At the same time reducing the size of the components no longer gives a significant increase in performance. In particular, the transition from the 7-nm TSMC technical process (which produces chips for AMD) to 5-nm will increase the processor clock frequency by only 15%.

    The decline in productivity growth has an impact on data center business processes. The data center has to increase computing resources by expanding the fleet of servers. This leads to an increase in energy consumption in the data center, which means an increase in electricity costs.

    Specialists from all over the world are engaged in the development of new technologies that would allow to extend the effect of Moore's law and at the same time increase the productivity of processors. One such technology is the metal-air transistor, which was developed by a team from the Royal Melbourne University of Technology ( RMIT ).

    How does the metal-air transistor

    The transistor has two metal electrodes, which act as drain and source. The operation of the device is based on the same principles that were used in vacuum transistors, but with one difference - the new transistor operates in air.

    In a metal-air transistor, the distance between the electrodes is so small - the drain and source are less than 35 nanometers apart - that the gas molecules do not have time to affect the particles.

    By design, the metal-to-air transistor resembles the classic MOSFET semiconductor devices. The “exchange” of electrons between the drain and the source (which are sharpened to enhance the electric field) occurs due to the autoelectronic emission effect . Only the shutter is not located between the drain and the source, and under them. The shutter itself is isolated from the system with a thin oxide film.

    Technology perspectives

    According to the project manager Shruti Nirantar (Shruti Nirantar), the technology will "breathe life" into Moore's law. It will allow you to build 3D networks of transistors. As a result, processor developers will be able to stop "chasing" the miniaturization of technical processes and concentrate on the implementation of compact 3D-architectures. These architectures will allow you to place more transistors on a chip.

    Also, new technology will increase the performance of chips. Experts believe that the operating frequency of the transistors will be several hundred gigahertz. For comparison: now the maximum for the silicon component is 40 GHz. This will significantly increase processor performance and optimize server parks in data centers.

    / photo by Robert CC BY

    Now for the development of technology, it is important to find funding for further experiments. A team of specialists needs to solve one technical difficulty. Since the electrodes of the transistor have a pointed shape, under the action of an electric field, they "melt", which reduces their effectiveness. They are hoping to fix the problem in the next two years, finding the optimal shape of the electrodes, which would be less susceptible to this effect.

    Other technologies that should extend Moore's law

    There are other developments that should "stretch" the duration of Moore's law. One of them is spin transistors. Their work is based on the movement of electron spins. The current in such a system is formed due to the polarization of the spins and their ordering in one direction.

    Such devices consume 10–100 times less energy than silicon transistors, and their maximum density on a chip is five times higher. The implementation of the technology works Intel. However, when the decision “leaves the laboratory,” the company does not inform.

    / photo Fritzchens Fritz PD / Intel Skylake

    Another research direction is volitronika, or valleytronics. She suggests using light of different polarization to control electrons at maximum and minimum energy levels, encoding information.

    A team of specialists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has already designed a similar device based on tin monosulfide. According to the developers, the technology will help create hybrid photon-electronic processors that will have greater performance than traditional devices.

    It is not known for certain when all these developments will be used in data centers or gadgets for the mass consumer. However, large state organizations are already working on some projects. For example, NASA deals with its own metal-air transistor , and DARPAlaunched a grants program for processor developers. Experts suggest that new solutions may begin to be widely used in the next ten years.

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