Tin Oxide: The First Stable p-type 2-D Semiconductor Material

New material promises to lead to 2-D complementary logic circuits

2 min read
A chip with 2-D dimensional tin oxide (SnO)
Photo: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

Researchers at the University of Utah have developed the first stable intrinsic p-type (carrying positive charges) 2-D semiconductor material, tin oxide. If this semiconductor is mated with a n-type (carrying electrons) 2-D semiconductor in a transistor, it opens up the possibility of building power-saving two-dimensional complementary logic circuits like the ones in microprocessors today.

"Now we have everything—we have p-type 2-D semiconductors and n-type 2-D semiconductors," said Ashutosh Tiwari, an associate professor at the University of Utah and the leader of the research, in a press release. "Now things will move forward much more quickly."

The potential for 2-D materials—such as graphene and molybdenum disulfide—as an alternative to the three-dimensional silicon, raises hopes for smaller, faster, lower-power transistors.

However, the path to success for these 2-D materials in transistors has not always been clear, whether it be issues such as graphene not being a natural semiconductor or the charge carrier traps that compromise molybdenum disulfide. But possibly the biggest issue has been that all previous 2-D materials have only been stable n-type semiconductors. It has been possible to dope other 2-D materials, such as molybdenum disulfide and tungsten diselenide, to behave as p-type. However, this new tin oxide represents the first intrinsic p-type semiconductor in a 2D material.

In research described in the journal Advanced Electronic Materials, the Utah University researchers overcame this limitation by layering 2-D tin oxide (SnO) onto a sapphire-and-silicon-dioxide (SiO2) substrate. The researchers were then able to fabricate a few field-effect transistors (FETs) from it.

With this development, the attractive properties of 2-D materials in transistors are more fully exploitable. For instance, in 2-D materials charge transport is basically confined to a single plane, meaning electrical and thermal transport properties that can be much better than those of bulk silicon. That could mean chips that consume less power and throw-off less heat.

In an e-mail interview, Tiwari said that the next step in their research will be to build a CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) using their new p-type 2-D semiconductor.

This post was corrected on 18 February to indicate that some 2-D materials could act as p-type semiconductors when doped.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.

Avicena

If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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