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Revolutionary diode design cracks 50 year-old electronics speed barrier

By

November 8, 2010

Metal-insulator-metal (MIM) diodes might just be the technology that allows electronics achieve the next big leap in processing speed. Research into diode design conducted at the Oregon State University (OSU) has revealed this week cheaper and easier to manufacture MIM diodes that will also eliminate speed restrictions of electronic circuits that have baffled materials researchers since the 1960's.

“Researchers have been trying to do this for decades, until now without success. It’s a basic way to eliminate the current speed limitations of electrons that have to move through materials,” OSU materials chemistry professor, Douglas Keszler said. “This is a fundamental change in the way you could produce electronic products at high speed on a huge scale at very low cost, even less than with conventional methods,” he said.

“For a long time, everyone has wanted something that takes us beyond silicon. This could be a way to simply print electronics on a huge size scale even less expensively than we can now. And when the products begin to emerge the increase in speed of operation could be enormous,” Keszler said.

Traditional silicon-based materials used in electronics work by limiting the flow of electrons using transistors, a process that restricts how quickly electrons can move across a circuit – and therefore how quickly your computer or iPhone can load a program. MIM diodes allow almost instantaneous electron transfer through the insulator surface – a major step in eliminating the 50 year-old speed barrier found in transistor based electronics.

The Breakthrough

While MIM diodes have been around for a while now, the biggest problem has been controlling electron flow to make it even across the entire surface of the diode. The breakthrough was to use a super smooth metal ZrCuAlNi in thin film form as opposed Aluminium (Al) which is comparatively rough. The roughness of the Al electrodes used in previous MIM diode research had resulted in poor consistency in electron flow. Now with the flatter ZrCuAlNi electrodes this flow of electrons can be controlled much more easily. So the diode is constructed with two ZrCuAlNi electrodes with a SiO2 insulator layer in between. A patent has been applied for on this new technology.

“When they first started to develop more sophisticated materials for the display industry, they knew this type of MIM diode was what they needed, but they couldn’t make it work,” Keszler said. “Now we can, and it could probably be used with a range of metals that are inexpensive and easily available, like copper, nickel or aluminum. It’s also much simpler, less costly and easier to fabricate.”

University scientists will initially apply the work to innovations in electronic displays, but they say many applications are possible. High speed computers and electronics that aren't limited by transistors are possibilities.

The Paper Advancing MIM Electronics: Amorphous Metal Electrodes is published in Advanced Materials.

5 Comments

Hm. When will we see these commercially do you think? And will I be able to afford one? I know it says that they will be cheaper to make, but that doesn't mean that they won't charge us ridiculous amounts for them.

Bobthefish
9th November, 2010 @ 02:56 am PST

Ok, I am a little confused.

Diodes allow electricity to go in one direction. When they are forward biased.

Transistors act like a solid state solenoid. When power is applied to one of the three legs it causes it to be biased in a way which allows electricity to flow in the other two.

How does a more efficient Diode take the place of a transistor?

Maybe I am just showing my ignorance.

But maybe a schematic with a traditional transistor circuit along with one with the new diode would be informative.

PrometheusGoneWild.com
9th November, 2010 @ 10:50 am PST

Like you said diodes don't "switch". They're one way.

Vacuum tubes are diodes. Part of the reason why transistors were such a hugh innovation is that they could be made incredibly small when compared to diodes, however, with this breakthrough, diodes can be far smaller than they used to be. It is indeed a huge breakthrough for electronics.

bridak
9th November, 2010 @ 03:03 pm PST

What?? Dennis at least got close. Bridak is out to lunch. Transistors do far more than just "restrict how quickly electrons can move across a circuit" or "that they can be made incredibly small when compared to diodes." For computation transistors are simply used as switches, but their key ability is amplification or the ability to provide gain. Yes, you can use diodes in logic but they have a fanout problem, i.e. their gain is less than 1 so they can't drive multiple loads. DTL Diode-Transistor logic was briefly popular with the diodes providing the logic and the transistor providing the gain to drive real life loads. That was a long time ago. Oh, and diodes are made the same way transistors are today, i.e. pn junctions unless you're talking a Schottky or a tunneling device, so there is no size advantage to transistors and this process does nothing to make them any smaller.

As to vacuum tubes being diodes... Well they can be, but generally vacuum tubes perform the exact same function as transistors with a controlling gate/grid/base and source/drain and emitter/collector terminals. OK, OK, they're really 5 terminal devices because you need an extra two terminals to heat the filament to generate the electrons. In fact the I-V characteristic of a BJT transistor is called a pentode characteristic precisely because it functionally looks the same as the old tubes. Transistors were a huge innovation because they were a hell of a lot more reliable than tubes, used less power, and they could be made smaller.

Plasma Junkie
9th November, 2010 @ 05:26 pm PST

Thanks for the interest in this work! If anyone's interested in more on the science behind the story, including details on how the diodes were constructed and tested, we've set the original research article free to access for the next four weeks; you can find it here: http://www.materialsviews.com/details/news/874437/New_Diodes_Quantum_Tunnel_Their_Way_To_Improved_Electronics.html

Adrian Miller

Advanced Materials

Facebook User
10th November, 2010 @ 06:21 am PST
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