Scientists at the University of California San Diego have made remarkable strides in the field of microelectronics. This is not the easiest scientific field to get involved in; the size of the technology can often negatively impact the effectiveness of the devices. But after numerous trials and errors, the Applied Electromagnetics Group has made a major breakthrough. The end result? The world’s first semiconductor-free optically-controlled microelectronic device.
Semiconductors have simultaneously been a benefit and hindrance to nanotechnology. They can often impose limits on the electron flow of the devices, making it that much more difficult to achieve ideal conductivity. But the scientists have created a system that no longer relies on the semiconductors: essentially, they’ve designed nanoscale-sized vacuum tubes that could one day improve the speed and effectiveness of all microtechnology.
The trick, as it were, came down to increasing the power without reducing the effectiveness of the microelectronics. Ideas were floated regarding the use of high voltages or high temperatures in conjunction with free-floating electrons, but these were dismissed as impractical for the nanotechnology. The secret to creating free-floating electrons in a viable environment seemed just out of grasp.
The solution came in the form of a new metasurface. Scientists fabricated it on top of a layer of silicon dioxide, and placed the whole thing on a silicon wafer. The metasurface itself was designed from gold nanostructures and parallel gold strips. What really makes this device remarkable is how it works in conjunction with voltage. A low-power surge of just 10 volts (along with some help from a low-power infrared laser) allows the metasurface to create high-intensity electric fields. These fields then release free electrons into space, which scientists could then harness for their microelectronics.
According to the scientists, the metasurface technology has proven wildly effective. Reports indicate a 1,000% change in conductivity. Of course, more testing is required before this new technology becomes widespread. Even then, it’s doubtful that we’ll fully do away with the useful semiconductors. But this new tool has certainly expanded the universe of microelectronics; now scientists just need to work out the limits and capabilities of this new nanotechnology.