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Ultra-Thin Alternative To Silicon 83

Posted by Soulskill
from the delicious-thin-mint-technology dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There's good news in the search for the next generation of semiconductors. Researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley have successfully integrated ultra-thin layers of the semiconductor indium arsenide onto a silicon substrate to create a nanoscale transistor with excellent electronic properties (abstract). A member of the III–V family of semiconductors, indium arsenide offers several advantages as an alternative to silicon, including superior electron mobility and velocity, which makes it an outstanding candidate for future high-speed, low-power electronic devices."
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Ultra-Thin Alternative To Silicon

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  • indium arsenide offers several advantages as an alternative to silicon, including superior electron mobility and velocity"

    Mr. Executive: Whats the cost?

    • by weorthe (666189)
      Indium is three times as abundant in the earth's crust as silver, with Canada being the leading supplier currently. That's still a lot less abundant than silicon.
      • Sorry, you can't have it. We are using all of it right now, and we don't know when we will be done with it.

      • If it's going to be economically viable to extract, then it needs to have a high concentration somewhere. If an element is uniformly distributed in the earth's crust, then unless it's _very_ abundant, it's not going to be economically viable to extract (at .25ppm, Indium doesn't fit that bill).

        So, while it may be more abundant than silver, it isn't often found in as high concentrations, so some people believe that we'll soon run out of economically viable sources -- one estimate puts that amount at 6,000 to

    • I don't think cost will be a major issue. Right now when you pay for a processor a small percentage goes into raw materials. Also you are using less of it too compared to modern methods.

      What will happen this technology will come out. As a normal incremental upgrade and you probably wouldn't know that this technology is in the chip. They will just brand it with some name probably with a made up word and a number we will look at the specs if it is good enough some companies will buy it put it into their ha

      • And what do raw materials need with that small percentage?

        They've been getting uppity lately, and need to be put into their place.

        BTW, your ultimate computer language is missing a closing paren.

        • BTW, your ultimate computer language is missing a closing paren.

          Thats why its the ultimate computer language.

  • Coming soon: indium arsenide condoms!
    captcha: seeding

  • Arsenic compounds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Formalin (1945560)

    I know there is already arsenic compounds in other devices (Some LED colours, GaAs based FETs, etc)

    LED's aren't such an issue, because even when you kill them they usually stay contained within their epoxy. IC's and transistors on the other hand like to explode violently on occasion.

    Just curious about the health hazards, if any apply. I've been known to kill some silicon on occasion ;-)

    Sounds interesting anyway.

    • Re:Arsenic compounds (Score:4, Informative)

      by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:02AM (#34314536)
      I'd say a lot safer than that green wood you see in playground equipment that has been treated with an arsenic compound to stop termites from eating it (and that stuff has been tested a lot because some kid somewhere is going to chew it). If we are going to be irrationally scared of elements then Teflon would scare the crap out of everyone.
      The answer as usual is how the stuff will behave with any bit of your body that it is likely to come in contact with and that decides what sort of hazard it is. For instance reactive stuff is an obvious hazard and things that will get into your lungs and never get out or break down another. This stuff is going to have very strong covalent bonds that stomach acid isn't going to touch.
      Oddly enough someone at the University I was working at in 1998 made a very thin diode junction of a very similar material using chemical vapour deposition and he wasn't the first to do so. Making a thin layer of the stuff is relatively easy, making an isolated very tiny transistor is hard.
    • by orient (535927)
      The garlic in your garlic bread has more arsenic that an IC...
  • Much easy to find than that pesky sand

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aramosfet (1824288)
      I hate it when people post links to articles which require me to login or subscribe to read. Could you atleast tell me whats the "single material" he's talking about?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr. Spork (142693)
      Yeah, but if we need layers of about 10nm, I'm quite sure we have enough Indium to make a cpu that's larger than the entire surface of the Earth.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Tumbleweed (3706)

        Yeah, but if we need layers of about 10nm, I'm quite sure we have enough Indium to make a cpu that's larger than the entire surface of the Earth.

        Wow. With a CPU that big, we'd have enough computational ability to figure out what the question of 'Life, the Universe and Everything' is. We should be able to speed that up, since we can work backwards from the answer. That'd be spiffy.

        Maybe we could run the Hurd on it, too.

        • by tom17 (659054)
          I dunno if it would quite manage that tbh, maybe it would be able to, I don't know, talk all four leggs off of an Altarian Mega Donkey and then make it go for a walk afterwards?
      • by damnfuct (861910)
        Indium is also used in other devices, and known reserve is currently being depleted. If you have a bucket of water with a hole in it, adding a smaller hole won't make it drain any slower.
  • by the_raptor (652941) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @01:32AM (#34314378)

    Restriction of Hazardous Substances.

    There are already a bunch of non-substitutable components that can't be used because of RoHS. Adding arsenic to make faster electronics is just not going to fly (it doesn't matter if current methods are just as toxic, everyone knows about Arsenic and RoHS is half PR). Researchers should be concentrating on making electronics less toxic so we don't keep poisoning African and Asian kids (working for electronics "recyclers") with last years iPhones.

    • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @01:41AM (#34314420)
      We're talking about a 10nm layer across the surface of a chip - that's about a square centimeter. If anyone seriously complains about 50% of this being Arsenic, I would happily scrape it off and eat it in front of them. I don't think it would be a quantity large enough for the human eye to see.
      • by bertok (226922) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:06AM (#34314568)

        That's just under 3 micrograms [wolframalpha.com] of arsenic. According to our trusted interwebs source, wikipedia: "The acute minimal lethal dose of arsenic in adults is estimated to be 70 to 200 mg". In other words, each chip contains about 1/25,000th of the lethal dose, in a non-soluble form.

        I'll think you'll be fine.

        • by Tumbleweed (3706)

          That's just under 3 micrograms of arsenic. According to our trusted interwebs source, wikipedia: "The acute minimal lethal dose of arsenic in adults is estimated to be 70 to 200 mg". In other words, each chip contains about 1/25,000th of the lethal dose, in a non-soluble form.

          Yeah, but if a child eats 25,000 of those chips, they could die! Won't anyone think of the children?!

          • by BranMan (29917)
            You insensitive clod! 25,000 is an adult dose! Just eating 1,000 could kill a child. Oh the humanity!
        • by am 2k (217885)

          The point here is, that the factory producing these chips would still have to handle the problematic material. Recently, a factory in Hungary demonstrated why this is a bad idea: Hungary: Toxic red sludge has reached the Danube [yahoo.com].

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Muad'Dave (255648)

            Hungary: Toxic red sludge has reached the [Blue] Danube

            So now we have the Purple Danube? Is Prince performing it?

          • by tlhIngan (30335)

            The point here is, that the factory producing these chips would still have to handle the problematic material. Recently, a factory in Hungary demonstrated why this is a bad idea: Hungary: Toxic red sludge has reached the Danube.

            Making electronics tends to involve using some very hazardous substances. If it wasn't for the fact that the quantities involved are so miniscule, IC manufacturing would be considered a very hazardous occupation equivalent to some of worst industries around. Everyone thinks electroni

          • Semiconductor fabricators are well-accustomed to handling toxic materials such as silane. LED manufacturers use arsenic in much larger quantities than the new technology requires. Quite simply, it is not a significant problem.

            Arsenic is a solid. It's not going to leak away or evaporate into the atmosphere if a bottle of it cracks.

      • by BluBrick (1924)
        And watch the world laugh as you die from indium poisoning! Hah!


        But seriously folks... Sure we know about arsenic and how miniscule amounts are probably OK in small amounts like that, but how is indium's toxicity? And what about indium arsenide itself? Is the whole more toxic than the sum of its parts?
    • Yes, but will it blend?

    • Restriction of Hazardous Substances.

      There are already a bunch of non-substitutable components that can't be used because of RoHS. Adding arsenic to make faster electronics is just not going to fly (it doesn't matter if current methods are just as toxic, everyone knows about Arsenic and RoHS is half PR). Researchers should be concentrating on making electronics less toxic so we don't keep poisoning African and Asian kids (working for electronics "recyclers") with last years iPhones.

      Do you realize that these chips aren't edible don't you?

      Also, as far as coming into contact with the actual chip, those things are embedded in their packaging, and not exactly removable without destroying them, or having very sophisticated equipment and a cleanroom.

      And for what I can tell you know exactly jack shit about semiconductor manufacturing.

      And those kids who are getting poisioned? Those aren't the chips that are poisoning them. Those are things like fumes from the solder, flux and similar material

    • Would it not be better to teach the African kids not to chew on discarded cell phones?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tulcod (1056476)
      And even if RoHS would not be an issue, this is not the stuff that will magically make future CPUs faster. The performance bottleneck of integrated circuits is (usually) wire delays. See, signals get sent from one transistor to another using aluminium wires. Those aluminium wires have a bit of resistance, and a bit of capacitance with other wires and the silicon substrate. Heck, more often than not they have so much capacitance with other wires that they get rerouted to avoid signal interference. So if all
    • Arsenic is already commonly used in the silicon processes for doping [wikipedia.org] purposes, so I don't think those new chips would be banned for containing it.

  • Why thin? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DriedClexler (814907) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:17AM (#34314612)

    I thought the purpose of silicone was to make the tits look *thicker*?

  • by commodoresloat (172735) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @02:18AM (#34314622)

    This day has been a long time in coming. I'd like to congratulate everyone involved. Younger folks may not realize how important this news is. Thanks to this we FINALLY have a slashdot headline where "Natalie Portman" is actually on topic.

  • About time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @03:26AM (#34314956) Homepage Journal

    I thought this possible a year or so ago while goofing off with diodes, but imagined the method needed to prevent leakage from the alloy would be too difficult to implement on a small scale.

    Glad to see I could be wrong. Science never ceases to amaze and educate me every single day.

  • Maybe a really dumb question. Why don't they use normal conductors? Wouldn't something that conducts electricity more efficiently generate much less heat and allow for higher clock cycles?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Raptoer (984438)

      Put simply, the way a transistor works requires the use of semiconductors. It's a property other than resistance which the transistor requires. When not in a transistor, materials with a high conductivity are used.

    • The property that makes semiconductors necessary is the ability to change the rate of electron flow through the material by the application of electrical signals into or near the material. This is much more difficult to do in a useful manner with metals than with semiconductors.
  • Why Bother? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Plekto (1018050) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @06:43AM (#34315834)

    I don't see the point of this when comparing the potential of Graphene based processors. These things, when (not if) they become reality, will have the same impact that perfecting Fusion power will. There's just no reason to spend the time trying to eek out a few more percent when the second that we manage to get the better technology to work, we'll no longer need anything else.

    • by tygerstripes (832644) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @07:11AM (#34315956)

      If this process is simpler and quicker to reach the fabs, and produces a notable performance increase, then it's worth it to develop. Someone will want to buy it, and that means someone will want to develop it.

      Just to hammer it home: why do you bother, ever, to upgrade your hardware, knowing it'll one day be obsolete?

      • by Plekto (1018050)

        (foo)arsenide... that means it has Arsenic in it and that's just more nasty stuff that we have to deal with in our landfills. Iridium is also a whopping $795 an ounce as of today. Mainstream chip manufacturers won't like a 2-3x hike in price that's likely to happen if they start using most of the world's production for chip making.

        It takes a couple of years or more as well to actually develop a chip and the manufacturing process to make it in bulk, so neither is more than in the R&D stage for a while an

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Because it is possible and demonstratable to grow InAs today. It is grown in bulk, single crystal material. Graphene, while making strides in the "manufacturable" direction, is still practically relegated to grad students shaving pencils with razors onto tape to get a single monolayer film.
    • by Ramble (940291)
      Because there is still quite a ways to go with graphene based devices.
  • I read the other day that indium may well become hard to come by in the not too distant future... indium tin oxide is heavily used in the now trendy touch screen displays, so will this technology become mainstream before the indium reserves run dry???
  • Silicon only become the predominate material in the 1970s when it became insanely cheap to manufacture integrated circuits with it. Before then there was germanium, gallium, arsium, etc. Diamond, graphene,indium, and other materials make pretty good transistors. But can you put a billion of them in a couple square centimeters at a millionth of a cent per transistor?
    • As a matter of fact, silicon is not primarily used because of its low price - even though that IS a factor - but because of the excellent electrical properties of the interface between silicon and silicon dioxide. The silicon is a good conductor when doped with boron or phosphorus, the oxide is a very good isolator, and the interface is extremely smooth. The oxide can be grown to any desired thickness in a process that can be tightly controlled. All this means that the silicon technology scales down better

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