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Making the New Silicon

By MIT News

July 30, 2015

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers say they have developed gallium nitride (GaN) transistors to power electronic circuits that can cut energy usage in data centers, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent worldwide by 2025.

The GaN transistors have at least one-tenth the resistance of silicon-based transistors, according to the researchers. The reduced resistance allows for much higher energy efficiency and orders-of-magnitude faster switching frequency, resulting in much small electrical components.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change electronics and to really make an impact on how energy is used in the world," says MIT professor Tomas Palacios.

Safety drawbacks and expensive manufacturing processes have largely kept GaN transistors off the market, but the researchers say they overcame these issues via design innovations.

The new GaN transistors have layers of different materials with disparate composition. "You can modify the basic GaN material, add impurities and other elements, to change its properties," Palacios says.

The researchers also developed new fabrication technologies that involved switching out gold metals traditionally used in manufacturing GaN devices for metals that were compatible with silicon fabrication. "Basically, we are fabricating our advanced GaN transistors and circuits in conventional silicon foundries, at the cost of silicon," says MIT alumnus Bin Lu.

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