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Nanoscale Switch Prevents ‘Leaked’ Energy

December 11, 2013 By Linda Hardesty

computer chip Energy ManageScientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, say they have built nanoscale switches and logic gates that operate more energy-efficiently than those now used in billions of electronic devices.

Silicon-based transistors, called MOSFETs, are the dominant switching devices in integrated circuits today. But continued miniaturization of silicon MOSFETs has recently slowed, as power consumption and heat dissipation have become major challenges.

Electromechanical switches were the building blocks of electronics before the solid-state transistor was developed. The Case Western researchers have created a modern version – silicon carbide (SiC) nanoelectromechanical switches – that snap on and off like a light switch, with none of the energy-wasting current leakage that plagues the smallest electronics today.

The tiny switch’s moving part is only about one cubic micron in volume, more than a thousand times smaller than devices made in today’s mainstream microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Thus, this switch can move much faster and is much lighter.

The switch has also proved durable, operating for more than 10 million cycles in air, at ambient temperatures and high heat without loss of performance. Such tolerance may enable electronics-makers to build a computer that operates within the intense heat of a nuclear reactor or jet engine. Silicon transistors start to deteriorate at around 250 degrees Celsius (480 degrees Fahrenheit). Testing has shown the silicon carbide switches operate at more than 500 degrees Celsius (930 degrees Fahrenheit).

Earlier this month, a research team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Terasquare, a spin-off company of the university, developed an extremely low-powered integrated circuit for Ethernet that consumes less than 0.75W of electricity but is able to send and receive data at 100 gigabits per second (Gbps).

Photo: Circuit board via Shutterstock


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