Engineers have just discovered a new kind of semiconducting material for electronics, which may lead to faster processing in computers and smartphones, and will also consume less power.
The 2D semiconductor is made up of the elements tin and oxygen, or tin monoxide (SnO). Because it is only one atom thick, electrical charges move through it at much higher speeds than the conventional 3D materials.
According to the University of Utah, the material could be used in transistors, which is the main component of all electronic devices; this includes computer processors, graphics processors, and mobile devices.
Current transistors and other components that electronic devices use are made up of 3D materials like silicon, and consist of multiple layers on a glass substrate. The problem with this is the electrons bounce around inside the layers in all directions, the University explains.
However, with the 2D materials they are made of one layer with the thickness of just one or two atoms. Therefore, the electrons “can only move in one layer so it’s much faster,” says Associate professor Ashutosh Tiwari, from University of Utah materials science and engineering, who led the team.
While other researchers have discovered new types of 2D material such as graphene, molybdenun disulfide, and borophene, these are materials that only allow the movement of N-type (negative) electrons.
However, electronic devices need a semiconductor material that allows both negative electrons and positive charges known as “holes” to move. The tin monoxide material that was discovered by Tiwari and his team is the first stable P-type 2D semiconductor material ever in existence.
“Now we have everything — we have P-type 2D semiconductors and N-type 2D semiconductors, now things will move forward much more quickly.”
The University believes this discovery can lead to transistors that are smaller and faster than those in use today. A computer processor is comprised of billions of transistors, and the more transistors packed into a single chip, the more powerful the processor can become.
The University writes:
“Transistors made with Tiwari’s semiconducting material could lead to computers and smartphones that are more than 100 times faster than regular devices. And because the electrons move through one layer instead of bouncing around in a 3D material, there will be less friction, meaning the processors will not get as hot as normal computer chips.
“They also will require much less power to run, a boon for mobile electronics that have to run on battery power. Tiwari says this could be especially important for medical devices such as electronic implants that will run longer on a single battery charge.”
Tiwari believes that with so much interest in this field it will only take a few years before we see a prototype. “The field is very hot right now, and people are very interested in it, so in two or three years we should see at least some prototype device,” he said.
A paper describing the research was published in the journal, Advanced Electronic Materials.