Engineers at the University of California San Diego have fabricated the first semiconductor-free, optically-controlled microelectronic device. This discovery has the opportunity to lead to faster electronics and more efficient solar panels that can carry more power.
Semiconductors based on silicon have helped us squeeze billions of transistors into a few square inches. However, they do have some issues: Electron velocity is limited by the resistance of semiconductor materials, and a boost of energy is required just to get them flowing through the “band gap” caused by the insulating properties of silicon-based semiconductors.
Vacuum tubes don’t have those problems, since they dislodge free electrons to carry a current through space. the UC San Diego team solved this problem through the use of metamaterials to build a microscale device that shows a 1,000% increase in conductivity when activated by low voltage and a low power laser. It can theoretically work with less resistance and handle higher amounts of power.
Next, the research team will need to understand how far these devices can be scaled and the limits of performance.
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