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Nanowire Transistors Could Let You Talk, Text, and Tweet Longer

Transistors with compound-semiconductor nanowires could consume less power than today’s silicon FinFETs

6 min read
Nanowire Transistors Could Let You Talk, Text, and Tweet Longer
Bridging The Gap: Germanium nanowires are suspended across a gap in this transistor.
Image: Purdue University

We cherish our smartphones for delivering entertainment and information on the go, but their need for daily charging is a problem. Battery life can’t get any shorter than it is today. (Well, it could, but consumers wouldn’t be happy about it.) So when new smartphone models come on the market with microprocessors based on the latest foundry process, the increase in the number of transistors in the chips should be balanced by a reduction in the power that each transistor consumes.

For the remainder of the decade, this power reduction per transistor can be accomplished with today’s workhorse device: the silicon FinFET. (It’s so named because the channel through which current flows is shaped like a vertical fin.) But continuing progress further into the future will require an overhaul of the transistor’s architecture: If the devices unveiled in December at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) are an indication, that overhaul will see the FinFET’s silicon fin shrink vertically to become a nanometers-wide wire made from semiconductors other than silicon.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan
LightGreen

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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