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The Toughest Transistor Yet

From broadband wireless to compact radars, countless future scenarios depend on the high power and high frequencies that only gallium nitride can deliver

12 min read
Image of IEEE Spectrum Magazine Cover.
Photo: IEEE Spectrum

Broadband wireless networks, ubiquitous hybrid electric vehicles, sophisticated controllers for electric grids, and compact, rugged radars: prognosticators have made plenty of promises in recent years. To that group, add gallium nitride transistors. All those technologies--and many more--are either much easier to envision, or could be hugely improved, with these devices.

The transistors withstand extreme heat and are capable of handling frequencies and power levels well beyond those possible with silicon, gallium arsenide, silicon carbide, or essentially any other semiconductor yet fabricated. And frequency and power-handling capabilities of this caliber could make all the difference in the amplifiers, modulators, and other key components of the advanced communications networks many are counting on to help revitalize the technology sector. The base stations of future wireless networks are a good illustration. The hope is that they will let people tap into high-speed streams of data, using their cell phones, personal digital assistants, or some other pocket console to capture video or high-quality sound.

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Caltech Team Launches Experimental Space-Based Solar Array

The satellite will test some of the tech needed to wirelessly beam power from orbit

4 min read
A lightweight gold-colored square frame for a solar power array, seen flying in space with Earth in background.

Artist's conception of Caltech's Space Solar Power Demonstrator in Earth orbit.

Caltech

For about as long as engineers have talked about beaming solar power to Earth from space, they’ve had to caution that it was an idea unlikely to become real anytime soon. Elaborate designs for orbiting solar farms have circulated for decades—but since photovoltaic cells were inefficient, any arrays would need to be the size of cities. The plans got no closer to space than the upper shelves of libraries.

That’s beginning to change. Right now, in a sun-synchronous orbit about 525 kilometers overhead, there is a small experimental satellite called the Space Solar Power Demonstrator One (SSPD-1 for short). It was designed and built by a team at the California Institute of Technology, funded by donations from the California real estate developer Donald Bren, and launched on 3 January—among 113 other small payloads—on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“To the best of our knowledge, this would be the first demonstration of actual power transfer in space, of wireless power transfer,” says Ali Hajimiri, a professor of electrical engineering at Caltech and a codirector of the program behind SSPD-1, the Space Solar Power Project.

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How to Stake Electronic Components Using Adhesives

Staking provides extra mechanical support for various electronic parts

2 min read
Adhesive staking of DIP component on a circuit board using Master Bond EP17HTDA-1.

The main use for adhesive staking is to provide extra mechanical support for electronic components and other parts that may be damaged due to vibration, shock, or handling.

Master Bond

This is a sponsored article brought to you by Master Bond.

Sensitive electronic components and other parts that may be damaged due to vibration, shock, or handling can often benefit from adhesive staking. Staking provides additional mechanical reinforcement to these delicate pieces.

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