Silicon chips might not retire too soon, thanks to ultrathin semiconductors
Silicon has been used to build chip semiconductors for almost five decades now, but Moor’s Law applied to chip complexity states that silicon reaches its physical limits if the chipmaking process goes under 5 nanometers. Even though scientists found germanium to reliably replace silicon when going to pico dimensions, the transition to new materials might cost chipmakers too much. Stanford University came up with an elegant solution, combining silicon with new ultrathin semiconductors. Scientists found that hafnium diselenide and zirconium diselenide could be used to create three-atom thick semiconductors that are more effective at self-insulation than silicon. Transistor size could thus be shrunk up to 10 times.
The combination of silicon with the ultrathin semiconductors would lead to more complex chips and would practically allow for a smoother transition between silicon and germanium-based manufacturing. “Silicon won’t go away. But for consumers this could mean much longer battery life and much more complex functionality if these semiconductors can be integrated with silicon,” said Eric Pop, associate professor of electrical engineering, who co-authored with post-doctoral scholar Michal Mleczko a paper on ultrarthin semiconductors that appears in the journal Science Advances.
In its current form, the technology still needs some improvements before seeing mass manufacturing. The scientists from Stanford Univeristy are trying to figure out how to refine the electrical contacts between transistors on their ultrathin diselenide circuits. They are also focusing on developing a way to better control the oxidized insulators to ensure they remain as thin and stable as possible. It looks like the 5 nanometer manufacturing process is several years away, so this technology could get implemented just it time.