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Long-standing device gets a nanotechnology boost

It's taking a dive into nanotechnology, but the III-V tunneling field effect transistor (TFET) is finally creeping close to the widely used metal-oxide-semiconductor field effect transistor (MOSFET).

III-V TFETs are a three terminal extension of the tunneling diode, a device invented in 1957, which earned inventor Leo Esaki a Nobel Prize in Physics.  Nicknamed the "Esaki transistor/diode" in his honor, the device went largely overlooked due to low driving currents in most applicable materials.

But a team led by electrical engineering professor Sean Rommel at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has tuned the transistors to approach MOSFET performance.  A key to the tuning was the work of graduate researcher David Pawlik who grew sub-120 nanometer vertical TFETs on a test chip that allow hundreds of diodes to be tested per sample.  The research allowed multiple kinds of homojunction and heterojunctions to be tested.

Working with fellow graduate researchers Brian Romanczyk and Paul Thomas, as well as collaborators at SEMATECH (a non-profit research consortium backed by top chipmakers) and Texas State University, the team recorded a record peak current density of 2.2 MA/cm^2.

The benefit of the III-V TFET is that they operate at a much lower voltage than MOSFETs and thus consume less watts of power.  The record setting design ran at -0.3 V.

Knapps tunnel
As its name implies, a tunneling FET is similar voltage wise to driving through a hill, instead of down one, says Professor Rommel. [Image Source: NCWpics]

Professor Rommel likens the traditional MOSFET to driving down a hill, voltage-wise, while the TFET, driven by quantum effects, is more like digging a tunnel through the hill.  He comments on the record current levels, "The tunneling field effect transistors have not yet demonstrated a sufficiently large drive current to make it a practical replacement for current transistor technology, but this work conclusively established the largest tunneling current ever experimentally demonstrated, answering a key question about the viability of tunneling field effect transistor technology."

He suggests in the paper that a peak current of 10 MA/cm^2 should be possible with high levels of doping in indium-based heterojunctions.

The results could be applied in everything from smartphones to solar cells.  Professor Rommel suggests tuned TFETs could reduce processor power consumption by a factor of 10, allowing longer battery life for phones and other devices.

The work was presented at a December at the International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco, Calif.  The work was funded by The National Science Foundation (NSF), SEMATECH, and RIT's Office of the Vice President of Research.

Sources: RIT, ResearchGate [paper]

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longer battery life...
By sixteenornumber on 1/31/2013 7:20:40 PM , Rating: -1
reduce processor power consumption by a factor of 10, allowing longer battery life for phones and other devices.

I call BS!

We already have ok battery life. Batteries will get better so manufacturers will make them smaller. Power efficiency of CPUs will go up and so will computational power. OS' and applications will continue to consume more and more performance. I highly doubt we will see much of a difference in actual battery life.

RE: longer battery life...
By bobsmith1492 on 1/31/2013 7:53:00 PM , Rating: 2
Well... then your phone will be the same size and battery life with 10x faster processing. Either way it's better, if it becomes economically feasible.

RE: longer battery life...
By Mint on 1/31/2013 8:28:47 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't even have to do that to be useful. 10x lower power consumption lets you spend 10x as much time out of idle doing stuff.

But he is right. The screen is the biggest impediment to improved battery life.

RE: longer battery life...
By cokbun on 1/31/2013 9:15:43 PM , Rating: 2
But he is right. The screen is the biggest impediment to improved battery life.

yeah, my screen use like 50% of battery resources

RE: longer battery life...
By laviathan05 on 1/31/2013 8:25:51 PM , Rating: 2
The direction that the portable electronics market has been moving combined with the amount of competition in that market leads me to believe that you are most likely wrong.

RE: longer battery life...
By ShieTar on 2/1/2013 5:36:15 AM , Rating: 1
Some batteries already caught fire when the producers tried to make them too small and too cheap. Invariably, if you increase energy density significantly below current batteries, you are basically producing tiny bombs.

RE: longer battery life...
By nafhan on 2/1/2013 2:30:28 PM , Rating: 2
C4 also has an extremely high energy density, but it's difficult to set off (you can burn it in a campfire, safely). In short: not even bombs are necessarily bombs without the proper stimuli.

Building high energy density and safety into the same device is not impossible - just difficult (and more so for batteries, of course).

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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