Germanium Can Take Transistors Where Silicon Can’t

The material inside the first transistors could have a new life at the cutting edge

11 min read
As a proof of concept, the author and his team used germanium-on-insulator wafers to construct inverters containing first planar transistors and then FinFETs.
Germanium Returns: Germanium was an early transistor material. Now its charge-carrying abilities and advanced fabrication technology make it an attractive material for future chips. As a proof of concept, the author and his team used germanium-on-insulator wafers to construct inverters containing first planar transistors and then FinFETs (shown above).
Image: Heng Wu/Purdue University

Nearly 70 years ago, two physicists at Bell Telephone Laboratories—John Bardeen and Walter Brattain—pressed two thin gold contacts into a slab of germanium and made a third contact on the bottom of the slab. The flow of current through this configuration could be used to turn a small signal into a larger one. The result was the first transistor—the amplifier and switch that was, arguably, the greatest invention of the 20th century. Thanks to Moore’s Law, the transistor has delivered computers far beyond anything thought possible in the 1950s.

Despite germanium’s starring role in the transistor’s early history, it was soon supplanted by silicon. But now, remarkably, the material is poised for a comeback. The world’s leading-edge chipmakers are contemplating a change to the component at the very heart of the transistor—the current-carrying channel. The idea is to replace the silicon there with a material that can move current at greater rates. Building transistors with such channels could help engineers continue to make faster and more energy-efficient circuits, which would mean better computers, smartphones, and countless other gadgets for years to come.

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Video Friday: Drone in a Cage

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
A drone inside of a protective geometric cage flies through a dark rain

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

ICRA 2022: 23 May–27 May 2022, PHILADELPHIA
IEEE ARSO 2022: 28 May–30 May 2022, LONG BEACH, CALIF.
RSS 2022: 21 June–1 July 2022, NEW YORK CITY
ERF 2022: 28 June–30 June 2022, ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
RoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOK
IEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITY
CLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Remembering 1982 IEEE President Robert Larson

He was a supporter of several IEEE programs including Smart Village

3 min read
A photo of two men in suits.  One behind the other.

Robert Larson [left] with IEEE Life Fellow Eric Herz, who served as IEEE general manager and executive director.

IEEE History Center

Robert E. Larson, 1982 IEEE president, died on 10 March at the age of 83.

An active volunteer who held many high-level positions throughout the organization, Larson was the 1975–1976 president of the IEEE Control Systems Society and also served as IEEE Foundation president.

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Distinguishing weak signals from noise is a challenging task in data acquisition. In this webinar, we will explain challenges and explore solutions. Register now!
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