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Happy 66th, Transistor!

By Dr. Randhir Thakur

Today marks the 66th birthday of the first working transistor; an opportune time to look back at how far this technological marvel has come. With 66 years of innovations behind it, today’s transistor looks quite different from when it first hit the scene.

First, there are so many of them around today. It’s estimated that more than 1200 quintillion transistors will be manufactured in 2015, making the transistor the most ubiquitous man-made device on the planet.

Numbers like that are staggering to contemplate, but perhaps even more difficult to imagine is a world without transistors. They serve as the building blocks for the electronic devices that have become such an integral part of our daily lives that consumers would shudder to think of life without them.  Case in point, a study showed that smartphone users typically check their phones 150 times a day during waking hours.  That kind of attention reveals just how important mobile devices, and the transistors that power them, have become.

As mentioned above, today’s transistors look radically different from their predecessors back in 1947, and Applied Materials has played a key role in the evolution of the transistor. It hasn’t been easy. As the size of transistors has continued to scale smaller and smaller, we’ve worked closely with customers to overcome device performance and yield challenges and help the industry keep up with Moore’s Law.

Our work has resulted in some amazing feats of innovation in materials engineering. We’ve helped enable new transistor material changes.  Selective epitaxy films enable higher transistor performance and increase speed by >30% through strain engineering. The implementation of high-k metal gates reduce the power leakage issue associated with scaling. Transistor leakage can be lowered by as much as 100x, lowering power consumption. Innovations in implant and anneal solutions improve drive current. We’ve also made significant advances in planarization technologies and precision interface engineering that enable the dramatic transformation of the transistor. The industry’s most recent significant achievement is the architecture’s migration from planar to three-dimensional FinFET transistors (see the transistor roadmap). These major advances in transistor performance enable more functions and features, improve interface experience, and prolong battery life on mobile devices.


Our expertise in precision materials engineering has made the mass production of transistors with atomic-sized dimensions not just a possibility, but a process that is repeated millions of times a day in fabs around the world. Those fabs in turn have created the semiconductors that enable wonderful new achievements: from manned space flights that allow us to explore the universe to smartphones, tablets and high-resolution TVs that keep us connected, productive, educated and entertained.

All of that from a device so small you need an electron microscope to see it. The transistor is truly one of the most amazing technological innovations of all time!

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