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January 11th, 2010
The current technology that powers modern day electronics — the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) switch — is about to hit a wall.
That's the assessment of nanoelectronics experts around the globe, including researchers right here in South Bend, at the University of Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano) and the Midwest Institute for Nanolectronics Discovery (MIND).
One promising technology uses electron tunneling, a phenomenon of quantum mechanics, which describes the transfer of electrons across energy barriers. As Porod explains, electron tunneling allows engineers to better control the flow of electrons across much shorter distances than in a current microprocessor chip, turning them "on" and "off" as needed, and with less power, so that they are more efficient.
In Seabaugh's laboratory, researchers are constructing tunneling transistors, devices in which quantum-mechanical tunneling is controlled electronically. The transistor itself is made from a stack of materials, where all of the thicknesses are measured in nanometers, consisting of semiconductors, oxides and metals. The challenge for Seabaugh and his colleagues is to manipulate the thickness of the barrier to better control electron flow.
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