Cubic Boron Arsenide: The Best Semiconductor Ever and the Successor to Silicon? – News

Researchers from MIT and the University of Houston discovered a material with better electronic properties than silicon. A breakthrough for the world of electronics?

Silicon is the most widespread element on Earth – and the basis of all our electronics, from computers, radios and televisions to solar panels. But the semiconductor may have a serious competitor. Because researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Houston have discovered a substance that outperforms silicon: cubic borarsenide. The group led by Gang Chen writes about it in the journal Science.

Limitations of silicon

Semiconductors are substances that are between an insulator and a superconductor in terms of electron conduction. They lead a little, but not very well. Ideal for electronics when combined with conductive elements in the right places. But while silicon has been used in virtually every electronic device since the end of the last century, it has quite a few limitations. For example, while it can allow electrons to pass through where necessary, it is less able to handle so-called holes. Such a ‘hole’ is a positive charge that occurs when an electron is removed. These holes are also important for the electronics to function correctly.

Furthermore, silicon is a poor conductor of heat. A laptop, for example, heats up quite quickly from operation and needs good cooling to prevent overheating. The electronics world is of course aware of these limitations and can deal with them in the meantime, but it is not yet ideal.

Higher score

So now Chen and his colleagues come up with a substance that could possibly be the ideal semiconductor for electronics. A few years ago they theoretically calculated that cubic borarsenide would have better electronic properties than silicon. By using advanced ultrafast lasers, they have now also been able to confirm this experimentally. Boron arsenide scored slightly higher than silicon in electron and hole transport and at least ten times higher in heat dissipation.

It all sounds very nice, of course, but it is only about very small amounts of boronase anide that were mixed just uniformly enough to extract reliable data. The team’s task now is to find a way to increase production for larger tests. Silicon had decades to rise to become the main ingredient in our electronic devices. Borarsenide will therefore take a few years to become a serious alternative. But the beginning may well be there.

Impressive

“I had honestly never heard of cubic borarsenide,” says the electrophysicist Ray Hueting from the University of Twente for KIJK Magazine. ‘This is quite an eye-opener. Mainly due to the fact that this substance apparently has good mobility values ​​for both electrons and holes. It is essential for the digital logic in the CMOS technology (used for example with screens, ed.) to function correctly.’

Also electrophysicist Jan Kee’s Moon from Radboud University finds the new semiconductor interesting, but is skeptical. ‘For decades, articles have been published advertising new materials as a ‘better alternative’ to silicon. But despite all its disadvantages, silicon has a huge technological advantage that overshadows all its disadvantages. Namely that it is easy to oxidize, which creates a good insulator. This aspect alone makes silicon unsurpassed in my opinion.’

Indeed, the search for a successor to silicon has been going on for decades. In 2010, it was all graphene that beat the clock: a form of carbon. “In 50 years, the silicon period will be considered the Stone Age of electronics,” he said Walter de Heera Dutch physicist from the Georgia Institute of Technology told Data News in 2010.

Source: KIJK Magazine

Silicon is the most widespread element on Earth – and the basis of all our electronics, from computers, radios and televisions to solar panels. But the semiconductor may have a serious competitor. Because researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Houston have discovered a substance that outperforms silicon: cubic borarsenide. The group, led by Gang Chen, writes about it in the journal Science. Semiconductors are substances that are between an insulator and a superconductor in terms of conduction of electrons. They lead a little, but not very well. Ideal for electronics when combined with conductive elements in the right places. But while silicon has been used in virtually every electronic device since the end of the last century, it has quite a few limitations. For example, while it can allow electrons to pass through where necessary, it is less able to handle so-called holes. Such a ‘hole’ is a positive charge that occurs when an electron is removed. These holes are also important for the correct functioning of the electronics. Silicon is also a poor conductor of heat. A laptop, for example, heats up quite quickly from operation and needs good cooling to prevent overheating. The world of electronics is of course aware of these limitations and is now able to deal with them, but it is not yet ideal. Now, Chen and his colleagues have come up with a substance that could possibly be the ideal semiconductor for electronics. A few years ago they theoretically calculated that cubic borarsenide would have better electronic properties than silicon. By using advanced ultrafast lasers, they have now also been able to confirm this experimentally. Boron arsenide scored slightly higher than silicon in electron and ‘hole’ transport and at least ten times higher in heat dissipation. It sounds very nice, of course, but we are only talking about very small amounts of boron ashenide that were mixed just uniformly enough to extract reliable data. The team’s task now is to find a way to increase production for larger tests. Silicon had decades to rise to become the main ingredient in our electronic devices. Borarsenide will therefore take a few years to become a serious alternative. But the beginning may well be there: ‘To be honest, I had never heard of cubic boron arsenide,’ says electrophysicist Ray Hueting from the University of Twente to KIJK Magazine. ‘This is quite an eye-opener. Mainly due to the fact that this substance apparently has good mobility values ​​for both electrons and holes. It is essential for the correct functioning of digital logic in CMOS technology (e.g. used in monitors, ed.).’ Electrophysicist Jan Kees Maan from Radboud University also finds the new semiconductor interesting, but is skeptical. ‘For decades, articles have been published advertising new materials as a ‘better alternative’ to silicon. But despite all its disadvantages, silicon has a huge technological advantage that overshadows all its disadvantages. Namely that it is easy to oxidize, which creates a good insulator. In my opinion, silicon is unmatched for this aspect alone.’The search for a successor to silicon has actually been going on for decades. In 2010, it was all graphene that beat the clock: a form of carbon. “In 50 years, the silicon period will be considered the Stone Age of electronics,” Walter de Heer, a Dutch physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Data News in 2010. Source: KIJK Magazine

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