Intel finds transistor replacement at the bottom of a well

A team from Intel and research company QinetiQ (pronounced kinetic) have come up with a material that they believe may replace transistors in the future. The new material based on an exotic compound called Indium antimonide (InSb) may have switching capabilities at very low voltages and hence consume very little power.

The research is based on the concept of a ‘quantum well’. Conceptually, electrons can be ‘trapped’ at the bottom of a ‘well’. In order to be able to escape, they need a certain amount of energy to be able to overcome the atomic forces which are keeping them trapped. This being the realm of quantum mechanics, the electrons will need a discrete amount of energy to be released. By applying a voltage to the material, the researchers can ‘switch’ the state of the electrons to correspond to a 1 or 0.

According to Intel, results from the labs showed that `quantum well` transistors research needed ten times less power. Alternatively, they showed a three times improvement in transistor performance for the same power consumption used by traditional silicon transistors.

“The experimental results of our joint research with QinetiQ demonstrate that indium antimonide is a promising material for potential integration in future transistors,” said Ken David, director of components research for Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group. “Indium antimonide is one example of several new materials that Intel will continue to investigate in order to ensure that Moore’s Law extends well beyond the next decade.”

The results were obtained using a `depletion mode` InSb NMOS transistor. Such transistors are normally `on` and can be turned off by applying a negative voltage to the gate. This is in contrast to the normal practice of applying a voltage to switch a gate, when required.

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