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New 2D semiconducting material could lead to faster electronics

16 February 2016

Engineers have discovered a new kind of 2D semiconducting material that opens the door to speedier, more energy efficient electronic devices.

Associate professor Ashutosh Tiwari holds up a substrate layered with a newly discovered 2D material made of tin and oxygen (photo: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering)

The semiconductor, made of the elements tin and oxygen, or tin monoxide (SnO), is a layer of 2D material only one atom thick, allowing electrical charges to move through it much faster than conventional 3D materials such as silicon. The material was discovered by a team led by University of Utah materials science and engineering associate professor Ashutosh Tiwari.

Transistors and other components used in electronic devices are currently made of 3D materials such as silicon and consist of multiple layers on a glass substrate. But their downside is that electrons bounce around inside the layers in all directions.

The benefit of 2D materials, made of a layer the thickness of just one or two atoms, is that the electrons can only move in one layer so, according to Tiwari, it's much faster.

While researchers in this field have recently discovered new types of 2D material such as graphene, molybdenun disulphide and borophene, they have been materials that only allow the movement of N-type, or negative, electrons.

In order to create an electronic device, however, you need semiconductor material that allows the movement of both negative electrons and positive charges known ('holes'). The tin monoxide material discovered by Tiwari and his team is believed to be the first stable P-type 2D semiconductor material so far discovered.

"Now we have everything - we have P-type 2D semiconductors and N-type 2D semiconductors," he says. "Now things will move forward much more quickly."

Now that Tiwari and his team have discovered this new 2D material, it can lead to the manufacturing of transistors that are even smaller and faster than those in use today. Transistors made with Tiwari's semiconducting material could lead to computers and smartphones that are more than 100 times faster than regular devices.

And because the electrons move through one layer instead of bouncing around in a 3D material, there will be less friction, meaning the processors will not get as hot as normal computer chips. They also will require much less power to run, a boon for mobile electronics that have to run on battery power. Tiwari says this could be especially important for medical devices such as electronic implants that will run longer on a single battery charge.

Tiwari believes that some form of prototype device using this new technology will be available in two or three years time.

A paper describing the research is published online in the journal, Advanced Electronic Materials.

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