New breakthrough uses commercially achievable cold temperatures

Researchers at UC San Diego have made a breakthrough in integrated circuits using a particle type called excitons that can operate at commercially available cold temperatures. The breakthrough could one day lead to computers that are capable of running much faster than the machines we use today.

The same team made a similar discovery last summer with the development of an integrated circuit that was capable of working at 1.5 degrees Kelvin. The researchers point out that that temperature is warmer than the average temperature in space.

The new discovery is of a similar integrated circuit that can operate using excitons at 125 degrees Kelvin, equivalent to minus 234 degrees Fahrenheit. That is still a very cold temperature, but it can be achieved with commercially available liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen costs about as much as gasoline. The previous discovery requiring temperatures of minus 457 degrees Fahrenheit was only achievable in specially outfitted labs.

That fact means that computers based on the breakthrough would be able to convert the excitons into light without any other steps just by having the particles reach the end of the circuit. Optical circuits that use electrons must convert the electrons to light for use in communications devices whereas the excitons do this by nature.

“Our goal is to create efficient devices based on excitons that are operational at room temperature and can replace electronic devices where a high interconnection speed is important,” said Leonid Butov, a professor of physics at UCSD, who headed the research team. “We’re still in an early stage of development. Our team has only recently demonstrated the proof of principle for a transistor based on excitons and research is in progress.”

He continued, "Our transistors process signals using excitons, which like electrons can be controlled with electrical voltages, but unlike electrons transform into photons at the output of the circuit. This direct coupling of excitons to photons allows us to link computation and communication."

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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