Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering invented the world’s thinnest silicon transistors, which use less energy, generate less heat and pave the way for longer battery life and lighter electronics.
Silicon transistors are used in electronic devices and allow or block electricity to operate like valves.
Deji Akinwande, electrical and computer engineering assistant professor, supervised the silicon transistor research team, which worked in collaboration with the Italian Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems.
The team arranged the honeycomb structure — after coating it with a layer of alumina, a compound composed of aluminum and oxygen — to create the new transistor, which is only one-atom wide.
Sanjay Banerjee, engineering professor and director of the Microelectronics Research Center, said transistors are the “brain” of electronics.
“Have you ever felt the bottom of your computer heat up?” Banerjee said. “This is because the transistors use electricity to control the functions of the computer. The heat is a residue of that process.”
Until last year, scientists were skeptical of such thin silicon transistor because of silicon’s inherent instability in the honeycomb-specific structure.
“The honeycomb silicon structure was like a ghost,” Akinwande said. “It would disintegrate at the moment of contact with air.”
Akinwande met researchers from the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems from Agrate Brianza, Italy, during a conference on the subject.
“Our mutual interest in transistors led us to exchange expertise and develop the alumina coating that made silicon’s stability possible,” Akinwande said.
Banerjee said the transistor is not yet ready for commercial use.
“This is just the first step in a long road. The substance will not be good enough for practical application for 10 years or so,” Banerjee said.
Akinwande said the transistor is the product of two decades of research from various research institutions.
“Transistors are one of the greatest inventions of mankind,” Akinwande said.