IBM researchers have managed to grow semiconductor crystals that could be integrated on to silicon wafers - a breakthrough that could possibly enable engineers to keep building smaller and more efficient electronic devices.
The ability of the electronics industry to keep developing smaller and smaller computer chips was described in the so-called Moore’s Law, formulated in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who predicted that the number of transistors that could be integrated on to a circuit will keep doubling roughly every two years. However, many industry experts have speculated lately that the ability to keep pace with Moore’s law has reached its limits.
To keep pushing those limits, major technological advances would be needed.
The latest discovery by the IBM team - as featured on the cover of the latest issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters - is exactly what could keep Moore’s Law going for years to come.
"The whole semiconductor industry wants to keep Moore’s Law going. We need better performing transistors as we continue down-scaling and transistors based on silicon won’t give us improvements any more," said Heinz Schmid, a researcher with IBM Research GmbH at Zurich Research Laboratory in Switzerland and the lead author on the paper.
The method, which the authors describe as economically viable, relies on metal organic chemical vapour deposition. The process starts from a small area and gradually evolves into a larger defect-free crystal.
"What sets this work apart from other methods is that the compound semiconductor does not contain detrimental defects and that the process is fully compatible with current chip-fabrication technology," Schmid said.
Using the method, the IBM researchers fabricated single-crystal nanostructures such as nanowires, nanostructures containing constrictions, as well as 3D-stacked nanowires made of semiconductor materials including indium, gallium and arsenide.
Previously, integration of such materials on to silicon was not possible.
The development could allow engineers to keep making smaller computer chips while increasing their performance at the same time.
The researchers believe that photonic applications could also benefit from the technique, which allows seamlessly integrating active photonic components with electronics.
However, the researchers say more development will be required to achieve the same control over performance for those materials as currently exists for silicon.