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What Will Electronics Be Made Of? Silk and Snails and the Eggs of Quails

Materials scientists are coming up with ways to make circuits from biological materials

3 min read
A computer keyboard laying in the grass.
Photo: Konstantin Inozemtsev/Getty Images

The United Nations estimates that people throw away about 50 million metric tons of electronics every year. One way to lessen the problem, some scientists say, may be to use biological materials—including plant dyes and DNA—to build devices that are biodegradable and biocompatible.

“We have to be ashamed” of the amount of e-waste humanity produces, Mihai Irimia-Vladu told a symposium on organic bioelectronics at the December meeting of the Materials Research Society, in Boston. Irimia-Vladu, a materials scientist at Joanneum Research in Weiz, Austria, has used cellulose as a dielectric layer in an inverter circuit and shellac as a dielectric in organic field-effect transistors. Many other biological materials could be transformed into suitable dielectrics, he says, including aloe, silk, and egg whites. Beeswax and carnauba wax—derived from a species of palm tree—could make dielectrics that are also hydrophobic, which might be useful in some applications, Irimia-Vladu says.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper
Green

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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