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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: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

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.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Computing With Chemicals Makes Faster, Leaner AI

Battery-inspired artificial synapses are gaining ground

5 min read
Array of devices on a chip

This analog electrochemical memory (ECRAM) array provides a prototype for artificial synapses in AI training.

IBM research

How far away could an artificial brain be? Perhaps a very long way off still, but a working analogue to the essential element of the brain’s networks, the synapse, appears closer at hand now.

That’s because a device that draws inspiration from batteries now appears surprisingly well suited to run artificial neural networks. Called electrochemical RAM (ECRAM), it is giving traditional transistor-based AI an unexpected run for its money—and is quickly moving toward the head of the pack in the race to develop the perfect artificial synapse. Researchers recently reported a string of advances at this week’s IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022) and elsewhere, including ECRAM devices that use less energy, hold memory longer, and take up less space.

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Fourth Generation Digitizers With Easy-to-Use API

Learn about the latest generation high-performance data acquisition boards from Teledyne

1 min read

In this webinar, we explain the design principles and operation of our fourth-generation digitizers with a focus on the application programming interface (API).

Register now for this free webinar!

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