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Hardware Science

Quantum-Tunneling Electrons Could Make Semiconductors Obsolete 276

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the brain-for-790 dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "The powerful, reliable combination of transistors and semiconductors in computer processors could give way to systems built on the way electrons misbehave, all of it contained in circuits that warp even the most basic rules of physics. Rather than relying on a predictable flow of electrons that appear to know whether they are particles or waves, the new approach depends on quantum tunneling, in which electrons given the right incentive can travel faster than light, appear to arrive at a new location before having left the old one, and pass straight through barriers that should be able to hold them back. Quantum tunneling is one of a series of quantum-mechanics-related techniques being developed as possible replacements for transistors embedded in semiconducting materials such as silicon. Unlike traditional transistors, circuits built by creating pathways for electrons to travel across a bed of nanotubes are not limited by any size restriction relevant to current manufacturing methods, require far less power than even the tiniest transistors, and do not give off heat or leak electricity as waste products, according to Yoke Khin Yap of Michigan Technological University, lead author of a paper describing the technique, which was published in the journal Advanced Materials last week."
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Quantum-Tunneling Electrons Could Make Semiconductors Obsolete

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  • gasp! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:08PM (#44097619)
    You mean the 1950s are back? Tunnel diodes were supposed to rule the world back then too! How exciting!
    • You mean the 1950s are back? Tunnel diodes were supposed to rule the world back then too! How exciting!

      Tunneling is an old friend. It's also used for erasing NOR Flash.

      • Story time (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @01:53AM (#44098413) Homepage Journal

        When I was young kid, in the early 1960's, I visited a ham radio operator a bunch of times. Cool radios, etc. He taught me some key things about tubes, started a long slide into technology that still hasn't stopped. I asked him about transistors. He looked at me somewhat askance and said "yeah, "I heard about them things. Tubes, son. I know tubes." And went back to teaching me about tubes, and resonance, and etc. Outside of his place, I hooked into an NRI electronics course, and spent a summer sucking that down, while running to my older friend Tony to help me with the math. NRI was teaching tubes then too, but they had an excellent section on transistors, and so I grew comfortable with them just as they were becoming interesting and more widely used. Tubes, except for certain specific jobs, just aren't used much now as we all know, and I've always been grateful for my luck in terms of timing; a few years earlier, and I'd have been looking askance at transistors myself. But instead, I've been comfortable with semiconductors right up until they got too small for me to handle (surface mount, trembling hands, etc.) And I know tubes.

        The idea that another revolution of similar importance may happen in my lifetime...

        Damn. I just feel like one amazingly lucky fellow. :) Now, will I be able to grasp the tech if it makes it to market? That, as they say, remains to be seen. Getting older doesn't mean you're without a clue. It just means you no longer always know where you put them.

        • by MrWindmill (2919231) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @04:51AM (#44098777)

          Getting older doesn't mean you're without a clue. It just means you no longer always know where you put them.

          You, sir, made my day.

        • You, Sir, posted one of the finest and most readable comments on Slashdot since the time I signed up, which is quite a while. Congrats. May I turn into an older geek much in the same way as you did.
        • Getting older doesn't mean you're without a clue. It just means you no longer always know where you put them.

          Unless you're a mathematician, since the old knowledge never gets outdated for you.

        • by Muad'Dave (255648)

          If you've learned about bipolar transistors and MOSFET's, you've learned about tubes as well. FETs are very similar to tubes in their characteristic curves - both are considered voltage-driven devices. Bipolar transistors, on the other hand, are current-driven devices.

          I'm glad to hear a ham helped you out - we're like that!

          • Re:Story time (Score:4, Interesting)

            by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @10:30AM (#44100349) Homepage Journal

            Yes, tubes and fets share various characteristics, but there are a lot of things they don't share and I guarantee you that a good grounding (hah!) in fets of all kinds isn't sufficient to go off and do tube design beyond the very simplest applications. There have been some seriously weird tubes with no corresponding single-semiconductor solution; quite aside from the huge range of voltages involved, there are screen grids, directly heated cathodes, gas-filled regulators, CRTs (imagine depending on knowledge of a FET to make a CRT work, eh?), coupling issues, various kinds of noise peculiar to tubes, weird stuff like microphonics, just a whole host of interesting issues and devices. Plus, things you'd take as similar act quite differently, even starting just from a rectifier diode. And tubes glow in the dark. You're thinking orange, right? But an OA2 in normal operation is a beautiful, bright purple. And there are tubes that are green bar graphs, tubes that can display characters... :)

            Yes, that ham made a huge difference for me, and I try to do the same - happy to wear the "Elmer" hat. Been an extra class for decades now. Also, lately, been working on a free software defined radio [fyngyrz.com] app, so in way, I'm getting right back to my roots.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Gr8Apes (679165)

          I think the most interesting part of this is that yes, we are not yet out of revolutions. Interesting times, while an ancient Chinese curse, is certainly more fun than living without these new innovations. Bring them on!

          And I agree, getting older these days means you may have greater insight. The worst waste of time I see in programming is the "re-invention" cycle that occurs every 5-7 years with the latest new language or methodology. And after the newness wears off, the same old approaches are gravitate

        • by drakaan (688386)
          Saddest thing about this is that if they don't hurry up with it, you won't have anyplace you can go to actually purchase (and therefore experiment with) the damn things at a hobbyist level.
    • Josephen called (Score:4, Interesting)

      by goombah99 (560566) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:54PM (#44097831)

      He wants his junction back

  • We won't see this tech for at least 20 years before it get's applied to consumer products, if at all.

    OTOH, it is exciting to see the kinds of research being done that will advance computing beyond our wildest dreams.

    • We won't see this tech for at least 20 years before it get's applied to consumer products, if at all.

      OTOH, it is exciting to see the kinds of research being done that will advance computing beyond our wildest dreams.

      Who cares about consumer products. The transistor was invented in 1947 and was being used by the early 50's. Even for consumer products the first transistor radio was being sold by 1954. The IC was invented in 1958 and was being used by the early 60's.

    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      Actually, quantum-tunnelling semiconductors are being developed as useful products right now.

      One that I know of is a type of strain gauge which exhibits no mechanical hysteresis. Imagine conductive nanoparticles suspended in a stretchy insulator. The material is a semiconductor, and it conducts by quantum tunnelling. The more you stretch the material, the further apart the nanoparticles, and so the higher the electrical resistance.

  • quantum tunneling, in which electrons given the right incentive can travel faster than light,

    I know stuff can go faster than light, provided no information does, but I am not sure that happens in tunneling. Does it?

    • by gweihir (88907) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:36PM (#44097747)

      It does. Tunneling is instantaneous. It may even be able to transfer information, but the jury is still out on that and classical quantum mechanics says it cannot. If it can, then it can transfer information without time delay, but only over short distances and with a large energy investments that almost completely goes into losses. That way, it would basically never happen in nature and it cannot go over significant distances.

      • by hawk (1151)

        >classical quantum mechanics says it cannot.

        "Classical quantum mechanics."

        OK, with that phrase, my Physics degree is officially obsolete.

        Now I wonder how much time my Ph.D. in Economics & Statistics has left on it . . .

        hawk, fortunate that his J.D. won't expire . . .

      • It does. Tunneling is instantaneous.

        It may be instantaneous, but what, if anything, is actually "travelling"?

  • by gweihir (88907) on Monday June 24, 2013 @10:32PM (#44097739)

    Dear OP, transistors are f****** semiconductors! The rest of the article is at best starry-eyed fantasy.

    • They were doing a cold fusion experiment, and discovered telepathic yogurt..

    • Dear OP, transistors are f****** semiconductors!

      Strictly speaking transistors are made of semiconductor materials. Calling the devices themselves semiconductors is just an informal shorthand.

      The rest of the article is at best starry-eyed fantasy.

      Would you care to elaborate on why?

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        Strictly speaking, carbon nanotubes are semiconductor materials as well.
      • Strictly speaking "transistors" are any circuit element that involves a "transfer resistance", i.e. a parameter that is resistance-like and dynamically controlled by another parameter.

        Junction transistors do this one way. Field effect transistors do it a completely different way (or perhaps more than one different ways). Both of those happen to be implemented with semiconductors.

        This voltage-variable tunneling along gold decorations on a non-conducting nanotube is a transfer resistance and the mechanism o

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      transistors have doped semiconductors, and some also might have a layer of another material

  • My corollary to Betteridge's law of headlines [wikipedia.org]: If a title has "could" in it, you can replace it with "probably won't".
  • by Okonomiyaki (662220) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @01:07AM (#44098293) Homepage

    Wow, just imagine a beowulf cluster of whatever this article is about...

  • And no doubt their first application will be used to improve governmental surveillance systems.
  • warp even the most basic rules of physics

    Now that is a meaningless phrase if I ever saw one. Could someone explain what the fuck was the submitter thinking while writing this nonsense?

  • Unfortunately these threads have degenerated into YASSS (yet another Slashdot science seminar), where a few insightful or useful comments are made, and everyone else is trying to prove they remember or misremember their freshman physics. There has been almost no discussion of the tunneling device, which is a shame because I'd love to hear from people who have a better understanding than me.

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