Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Researchers at the University of Rochester believe they know how to make a transistor that, at room temperature, could operate at a blazing three terahertz.

The device, dubbed a ballistic deflection transistor, won’t be in products anytime soon. But it does embody some interesting design theories.

The semiconductor industry is eagerly looking for alternatives to the traditional transistor because engineers predict the device will reach its speed and size limits within the next two decades. “A lot of people are curious and trying to figure out what the next significant thing will be,” says Stan Williams, director of quantum science research at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto.

Currently, the fastest transistors–found in telecommunication technology–are clocked at a couple hundred gigahertz. Some transistors can run at about 500 gigahertz, but only when they are cooled to low temperatures. The ballistic deflection transistor could break those speed records at room temperature by channeling electrons in a different way.

This early prototype could have potential, says Williams. But he’s skeptical that this design will replace present-day transistors. Researchers at HP worked on a similar idea many years ago, Williams said, but decided not to pursue it because, at the time, the transistors required extremely low temperatures to work. However, if the researchers’ prototype works as well as they predict at room temperature, he says, “then they’ve got something.”

In contemporary transistors, electrons slog through layers of semiconductor material and collect on a capacitor: a charged capacitor represents a binary 1, or “on” state, whereas a discharged capacitor represents a 0, or “off” state.

In the researcher’s prototype, however, electrons would flow in a straight line along a two-dimensional path. An electric field would manipulate their direction as they bounce off of a tiny triangular structure in the path: deflecting to the right corresponds to a 1, and deflecting to the left corresponds to a 0.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me