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Research Alert: June 10, 2014

UC Santa Barbara researchers introduce highest performing III-V metal-oxide semiconductor FET

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will introduce today the highest performing III-V metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) field-effect transistors (FETs) at the 2014 Symposium on VLSI Technology.

The UCSB research promises to help deliver higher semiconductor performance at lower power consumption levels for next-generation, high-performance servers. The research is supported by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the world’s leading university-research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies.

The UCSB team’s III-V MOSFETs, for the first time in the industry, exhibit on-current, off-current and operating voltage comparable to or exceeding production silicon devices — while being constructed at small dimensions relevant to the VLSI (very-large-scale integration) industry.

For the past decade, III-V MOSFETs have been widely studied by a large number of research groups, but no research group had reported a III-V MOSFET with a performance equal to, let alone surpassing, that of a silicon MOSFET of similar size. In particular, UCSB’s transistors possess 25 nanometer (nm) gate lengths, an on-current of 0.5mA and off-current of 100nA per micron of transistor width and require only 0.5 volt to operate.

“The goal in developing new transistors is to reach or beat performance goals while making the transistor smaller—it is no good getting high performance in a big transistor,” said Mark Rodwell, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UCSB. “In time, the UCSB III-V MOSFET should perform significantly better than silicon FinFETs of equal size.”

To reach this breakthrough in performance, the UCSB team made three key improvements to the III-V MOSFET structure. First, the transistors use extremely thin semiconductor channels, some 2.5nm (17 atoms) thick, with the semiconductor being indium arsenide (InAs). Making such thin layers improves the on-current and reduces the off-current. These ultra-thin layers were developed by UCSB Ph.D student Cheng-Ying Huang under the guidance of Professor Arthur Gossard.

Next, the UCSB transistors use very-high-quality gate insulators, dielectrics between the gate electrode and the semiconductor. These layers are a stack of alumina (Al2O3, on InAs) and zirconia (ZrO2), and have a very high capacitance density. This means that when the transistor is turned on, a large density of electrons can be induced into the semiconductor channel. Development of these dielectric layers was led by UCSB Ph.D student Varista Chobpattana under the guidance of Professor Susanne Stemmer.

Third, the UCSB transistors use a vertical spacer layer design. This vertical spacer more smoothly distributes the field within the transistor, avoiding band-to-band tunneling. As with the very thin InAs channel design, the vertical spacer makes the leakage currents smaller, allowing the transistor’s off-current to rival that of silicon MOSFETs. The overall design, construction and testing of the transistor was led by UCSB Ph.D student Sanghoon Lee under Rodwell’s guidance.

“The UCSB team’s result goes a long way toward helping the industry address more efficient computing capabilities, with higher performance but lower voltage and energy consumption,” said Kwok Ng, Senior Director of Device Sciences at SRC. “This research is another critical step in helping ensure the continuation of Moore’s Law — the scaling of electronic components.”

New class of nanoparticles brings cheaper, lighter solar cells outdoors

Researchers in the University of Toronto’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering have designed and tested a new class of solar-sensitive nanoparticle that outshines the current state of the art employing this new class of technology.

This new form of solid, stable light-sensitive nanoparticles, called colloidal quantum dots, could lead to cheaper and more flexible solar cells, as well as better gas sensors, infrared lasers, infrared light emitting diodes and more.

Collecting sunlight using these tiny colloidal quantum dots depends on two types of semiconductors: n-type, which are rich in electrons; and p-type, which are poor in electrons. The problem? When exposed to the air, n-type materials bind to oxygen atoms, give up their electrons, and turn into p-type. Ning and colleagues modelled and demonstrated a new colloidal quantum dot n-type material that does not bind oxygen when exposed to air.

Maintaining stable n- and p-type layers simultaneously not only boosts the efficiency of light absorption, it opens up a world of new optoelectronic devices that capitalize on the best properties of both light and electricity. For the average person, this means more sophisticated weather satellites, remote controllers, satellite communication, or pollution detectors.

“This is a material innovation, that’s the first part, and with this new material we can build new device structures,” said Ning. “Iodide is almost a perfect ligand for these quantum solar cells with both high efficiency and air stability—no one has shown that before.”

Ning’s new hybrid n- and p-type material achieved solar power conversion efficiency up to eight per cent—among the best results reported to date.

Design of self-assembling protein nanomachines starts to click

A route for constructing protein nanomachines engineered for specific applications may be closer to reality.

Biological systems produce an incredible array of self-assembling, functional protein tools. Some examples of these nanoscale protein materials are scaffolds to anchor cellular activities, molecular motors to drive physiological events, and capsules for delivering viruses into host cells.

Scientists inspired by these sophisticated molecular machines want to build their own, with forms and functions customized to tackle modern-day challenges.

This is a computational model of a successfully designed two-component protein nanocage with tetrahedral symmetry. Credit: Dr. Vikram Mulligan

The ability to design new protein nanostructures could have useful implications in targeted delivery of drugs, in vaccine development and in plasmonics — manipulating electromagnetic signals to guide light diffraction for information technologies, energy production or other uses.

A recently developed computational method may be an important step toward that goal. The project was led by the University of Washington’s Neil King, translational investigator; Jacob Bale, graduate student in Molecular and Cellular Biology; and William Sheffler in David Baker’s laboratory at the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design, in collaboration with colleagues at UCLA and Janelia Farm.

The work is based in the Rosetta macromolecular modeling package developed by Baker and his colleagues. The program was originally created to predict natural protein structures from amino acid sequences. Researchers in the Baker lab and around the world are increasingly using Rosetta to design new protein structures and sequences aimed at solving real-world problems.

“Proteins are amazing structures that can do remarkable things,” King said, “they can respond to changes in their environment. Exposure to a particular metabolite or a rise in temperature, for example, can trigger an alteration in a particular protein’s shape and function.” People often call proteins the building blocks of life.

“But unlike, say, a PVC pipe,” King said, “they are not simply construction material.” They are also construction (and demolition) workers — speeding up chemical reactions, breaking down food, carrying messages, interacting with each other, and performing countless other duties vital to life.

Reporting in the June 5 issue of Nature, the researchers describe the development and application of new Rosetta software enabling the design of novel protein nanomaterials composed of multiple copies of distinct protein subunits, which arrange themselves into higher order, symmetrical architectures.

With the new software the scientists were able to create five novel, 24-subunit cage-like protein nanomaterials. Importantly, the actual structures, the researchers observed, were in very close agreement with their computer modeling.

Their method depends on encoding pairs of protein amino acid sequences with the information needed to direct molecular assembly through protein-protein interfaces. The interfaces not only provide the energetic forces that drive the assembly process, they also precisely orient the pairs of protein building blocks with the geometry required to yield the desired cage-like symmetric architectures.

Creating this cage-shaped protein, the scientists said, may be a first step towards building nano-scale containers. King said he looks forward to a time when cancer-drug molecules will be packaged inside of designed nanocages and delivered directly to tumor cells, sparing healthy cells.

“The problem today with cancer chemotherapy is that it hits every cell and makes the patient feel sick,” King said. Packaging the drugs inside customized nanovehicles with parking options restricted to cancer sites might circumvent the side effects.

The scientists note that combining just two types of symmetry elements, as in this study, can in theory give rise to a range of symmetrical shapes, such as cubic point groups, helices, layers, and crystals.

King explained that the immune system responds to repetitive, symmetric patterns, such as those on the surface of a virus or disease bacteria. Building nano-decoys may be a way train the immune system to attack certain types of pathogens.

“This concept may become the foundation for vaccines based on engineered nanomaterials,” King said. Further down the road, he and Bale anticipate that these design methods might also be useful for developing new clean energy technologies.

The scientists added in their report, “The precise control over interface geometry offered by our method enables the design of two-component protein nanomaterials with diverse nanoscale features, such as surfaces, pores, and internal volumes, with high accuracy.”

They went on to say that the combinations possible with two-component materials greatly expand the number and variety of potential nanomaterials that could be designed.



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2 Responses to “Research Alert: June 10, 2014”

  1. M Simon Says:

    A 100nA leakage and 10 billion transistors gives 1,000A of current. Even at .5V that is 500W. Chip cooling will be a problem. Still. And that is with no on transistors.

  2. PC Says:

    No, no, no Dr. Simon. The report says 100nA per micron of transistor width.
    Your 10 billion transistors will not all have one micron of transistor width. Most will be waaaay smaller. Maybe 0.04 micron on average? So your leakage power estimation comes out at about 20W.
    Which is better but still not good enough for most applications, so 100nA per micron is not acceptable except possibly for high power cooled devices…

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