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Electronic Components Future Technology

The Angstrom Era of Electronics

Angstrom is a unit of measurement that is most commonly used for extremely small particles or atoms in the fields of physics and chemistry.

However, nanometres are almost too big for new electronic components, and in the not-so-distant future angstrom may be used to measure the size of semiconductors.

It could happen soon

Some large firms have already announced their future plans to move to angstrom within the next decade, which is a huge step in terms of technological advancement.

The most advanced components at the moment are already below 10nm in size, with an average chip being around 14nm. Seeing as 1nm is equal to 10Å it is the logical next step to move to the angstrom.

The size of an atom

The unit (Å) is used to measure atoms, and ionic radius. 1Å is roughly equal to the diameter of one atom. There are certain elements, namely chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus, that have a covalent radius of 1Å, and hydrogen’s size is approximately 0.5Å.

As such, angstrom is mostly used in solid-state physics, chemistry and crystallography.

The origin of the Angstrom

The name of the unit came courtesy of Anders Jonas Ångström, who used the measurement in 1868 to chart the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in sunlight.

Using this new unit meant that the wavelengths of light could be measured without the decimals or fractions, and the chart was used by people in the fields of solar physics and atomic spectroscopy after its creation.

Will silicon survive?

It’s been quite a while since Moore’s Law was accurate. The methodology worked on the theory that every two years the number of transistors in an integrated circuit (IC) would double, and the manufacturing and consumer cost would decrease. Despite this principle being relatively accurate in 1965, it does not take into account the shrinking size of electronic components.

Silicon, the material used for most semiconductors, has an atomic size of approximately 2nm (20Å) and current transistors are around 14nm. Even as some firms promise to increase the capabilities of silicon semiconductors, you have to wonder if the material will soon need a successor.

Graphene, silicon carbide and gallium nitride have all been thrown into the ring as potential replacements for silicon, but none are developed enough at this stage for production to be widespread. That said, all three of these and several others have received research and development funding in recent years.

How it all measures up

The conversion of nanometres to angstrom may not seem noteworthy in itself, but the change and advancement it signals is phenomenal. It’s exciting to think about what kind of technology could be developed with electronics this size. So, let’s size up the angstrom era and see what the future holds.

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Electronic Components Future

What are GaN and SiC?

Silicon will eventually go out of fashion, and companies are currently heavily investing in finding its protégé. Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) are two semiconductors that are marked as being possible replacements.

Compound semiconductors

Both materials contain more than one element, so they are given the name compound semiconductors. They are also both wide bandgap semiconductors, which means they are more durable and capable of higher performance than their predecessor Silicon (Si).

Could they replace Silicon?

SiC and GaN both have some properties that are superior to Si, and they’re more durable when it comes to higher voltages.

The bandgap of GaN is 3.2eV and SiC has a bandgap of 3.4eV, compared to Si which has a bandgap of only 1.1eV. This gives the two compounds an advantage but would be a downside when it comes to lower voltages.

Again, both GaN and SiC have a greater breakdown field strength than the current semiconductor staple, ten times better than Si. Electron mobility of the two materials, however, is drastically different from each other and from Silicon.

Main advantages of GaN

GaN can be grown by spraying a gaseous raw material onto a substrate, and one such substrate is silicon. This bypasses the need for any specialist manufacturing equipment being produced as the technology is already in place to produce Si.

The electron mobility of GaN is higher than both SiC and Si and can be manufactured at a lower cost than Si, and so produces transistors and integrated circuits with a faster switching speed and lower resistance.

There is always a downside, though, and GaN’s is the low thermal conductivity. GaN can only reach around 60% of SiC’s thermal conductivity which, although still excellent, could end up being a problem for designers.

Is SiC better?

As we’ve just mentioned, SiC has a higher thermal conductivity than its counterpart, which means it would outlast GaN at a higher heat.

SiC also has more versatility than GaN in what type of semiconductor it can become. The doping of SiC can be performed with phosphorous or nitrogen for an N-type semiconductor, or aluminium for a P-type semiconductor.

SiC is considered to be superior in terms of material quality progress, and the wafers have been produced to a bigger size than that of GaN. SiC on SiC wafers beat GaN on SiC wafers in terms of cost too.

SiC is mainly used for Schottky diodes and FET or MOSFET transistors to make converters, inverters, power supplies, battery chargers and motor control systems.

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Electronic Components Future Supply Chain Technology

Could Graphene be used in semiconductors?

A new discovery

Graphene was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004. Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were experimenting on a Friday night (as you do) and found they could create very thin flakes of graphite using sticky tape. When separating these fragments further, they found they could produce flakes that were one atom thick.

Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their ground-breaking experiments in 2010, and since the two had first identified the material since the 60s it had been a long time coming.

Despite its thinness Graphene is extremely strong, estimated to be 200 times stronger than steel

Is silicon outdated?

Semiconductors are inextricably linked to Moore’s Law, which is the principle that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every year. But that observation Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made in 1965 is now losing speed.

Silicon chips will very soon reach their limit and will be unable to hold any additional transistors, which means that future innovation will require a replacement material. Graphene, with its single-atom thickness, is a contender.

In 2014 hardware company IBM devoted $3 billion to researching replacements for silicon as it believed the material would become obsolete. The company said as chips and transistors get smaller, as small as the current average of 7 nanometers (nm), the integrity of silicon is more at risk.

IBM revealed its new 2nm tech last year, which can hold 50 billion transistors on a single silicon chip, so the material is not going obsolete just yet.

Disadvantages

Graphene is nowhere close to being a replacement for silicon, it is still in the development stage and the cost of implementing it into supply chain would be extensive. A lot more research and adjustment is required, and it would have to be introduced step by step to avoid prices skyrocketing and supply chains breaking down.

Graphene is not the only contender to be the replacement for silicon either. Carbon nanotubes are fighting for prominence, and other 2D materials like molybdenum disulfide and tungsten disulfide are also vying for the position.

Another disadvantage of Graphene is that there is no bandgap, which means the semiconductor can’t be switched off. The possibly jagged edges of the material could also pierce the cell membranes which may disrupt functions.

Other applications

Thanks to its 2D properties Graphene is also being studied for its potential uses in other areas. In relation to semiconductors there has been research from Korea on the uses of graphene as a filtration device for semiconductor wastewater. The oxide-based nanofiltration membranes could remove ammonium from the wastewater created by semiconductor production so it can then be recycled. As a wider application of this Graphene could be used as a filtration device for water or to remove gas from a gas-liquid mixture.

Graphene is also being researched for its uses in the biomedical field, which include being a platform for drug deliverybone tissue engineering, and ultrasensitive biosensors to detect nucleic acids. Graphene has other sensor-based uses, because the sensors can be made in micrometre-size they could be made to detect events on a molecular level, and could be of use in agriculture and smart farming.

There is a possibility Graphene could be combined with paint to weather-proof or rust-proof vehicles and houses, and to coat sports equipment. It also could have potential within the energy field for extending the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries.

When can we expect change?

Consultation company McKinsey estimated there would be three phases to the implementation of Graphene, none of which have begun just yet. Phase one would be to use Graphene as an ‘enhancer’ of existing technology, and will simply improve other devices by extending the lifespan or improving the conduction. This phase is estimated to last for ten years, after which phase two will begin. In this step graphene will become a replacement for silicon and will be the next step in the improvement of semiconductors and electronics. After 25 years we can expect the next step in graphene applications, things we can only dream of now.

In the meantime, people will still be using silicon-based semiconductors for quite a while. If you’re on the lookout for chips, or any other day-to-day or obsolete electronic components, contact Cyclops today at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.