New obstacles with the limits of electron flow through semiconductors are one of the many problems engineers face as they continue to push for increased speed and power for electronic devices. But a team of researchers is looking back at the technology of the vacuum tube to develop a means to increase circuit and computational speed.
Once it was invented in the late 1940s, the transistor began to replace the vacuum tube, and led to an amazing range of uses for solid-state devices and the variety of electronic gadgets we have today. Transistors offered savings in both size and energy. But one of the things that vacuum tubes provided was an obstacle free path for unhindered electron flow through the vacuum. "Electrons traveling inside a semiconductor device frequently experience collisions or scattering in the solid-state medium." The problem with vacuum tubes, besides their large size, is that they require high voltages to operate.
Researchers at University of Pittsburgh have developed a method for electrons to travel through a nanoscale vacuum which could lead to advances in electronics with improvements in speed and transistor density. According to the project leader, Hong Koo Kim, "The emission of this electron system into vacuum channels could enable a new class of low-power, high-speed transistors, and it’s also compatible with current silicon electronics, complementing those electronics by adding new functions that are faster and more energy efficient due to the low voltage."
written by Frank Giacona, August 24, 2012
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