Strange Bedfellows

Marriage of silicon and previously incompatible semiconductors is consummated

3 min read

SILICON IS THE STUFF OF MEMORIES and microprocessors. III-V semiconductors�compounds made of elements inhabiting the third and fifth columns of the periodic table, like gallium arsenide�are the stuff of high-frequency communications chips, LEDs, and solid-state lasers. But these two types of materials have never been able to live together on the same chip. Now, researchers in Europe have found that at the nanometer scale, they can get along just fine. The researchers grew indium-phosphide and gallium-phosphide nanowires on a silicon substrate, clearing the path for the manufacture of cheaper high-frequency chips and silicon devices embedding LEDs and lasers.

A typical chip integrating these materials might consist of a silicon substrate with a large number of vertical nanowires, says Jorden van Dam of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands. The nano-wires could contain p-n junctions and could be embedded in an insulating polymer layer. Then, passing a current through the nanowires would cause emission of light from close to the junctions, making the device function as a tiny LED. Such nanowires could form a pixel in a display.

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The Transistor at 75

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

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

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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