The commonly implemented electronic component has now been enhanced to serve a range of tasks involving logic and high-end computing
In addition to the usual control gate (red) there is also a program gate (blue). (credit: TU Wien)
As you all know, a transistor is an electronic component that either allows or blocks the current flow. They can be often found in all electronic devices as it simplifies the creation of logic circuits and memory storage.
With advancements in organic thin-film transistors (OTFT), FET technology and perovskites, the future of computing will require chips with adaptable transistors for performing tasks in the field of artificial intelligence, neural networks or quantum computing.
To accomplish this, scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) have developed a new transistor design technology that relies on pure germanium instead of conventionally doped silicon.
Uniqueness of germanium
The special properties of germanium and the use of dedicated program gate electrodes made it possible to create a prototype for a new component that may usher in a new era of chip technology.
Electric charge flow in a traditional transistor occurs due to the movement of electrons (that create a negative charge) and the generation of holes (that create a positive charge).
In the breakthrough transistor, both electrons and holes are manipulated simultaneously by connecting two electrodes with an extremely thin wire made of germanium, which is connected to metal on both sides.
“Above this germanium segment, we place a gate electrode like the ones found in conventional transistors. What is decisive is that our transistor also has another control electrode, which is placed on the interfaces between germanium and metal. It can dynamically program the function of the transistor,” explains Dr Masiar Sistani, researcher at the Institute for Solid State Electronics at TU Wien.
On application of voltage on germanium, the current flow initially increases, and after a certain threshold, the current flow decreases – called negative differential resistance. With the help of the control electrode, the applied voltage can be modulated to fix any threshold value, thus giving freedom to precisely manage the properties required by a transistor.
Better logic devices
The method offers a new way to fabricate logic devices.
“Until now, the intelligence of electronics has come simply from the interconnection of several transistors, each of which had only a fairly primitive functionality. In the future, this intelligence can be transferred to the adaptability of the new transistor itself,” says Prof Walter Weber, researcher at the Institute for Solid State Electronics at TU Wien.
“Arithmetic operations, which previously required 160 transistors, are possible with 24 transistors due to this increased adaptability. In this way, the speed and energy efficiency of the circuits can also be significantly increased.”
Yes for AI-based applications
The new technology holds great promise for artificial intelligence.
“Our human intelligence is based on dynamically changing circuits between nerve cells. With new adaptive transistors, it is now possible to change circuits directly on the chip in a targeted way,” says Walter Weber. Multivalued logic can also be implemented in this way – i.e. circuits that work not only with 0 and 1, but with a larger number of possible states.
With the aim to make the new technology a reality as soon as possible, the researchers hope no new manufacturing processes will be necessary so that the new transistor technology can be introduced without replacing the existing one.
“The new technology is more likely to be incorporated into computer chips as an add-on in the future. For certain applications, it will simply be more energy-efficient to rely on adaptive transistors,” says Masiar Sistani.
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