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New Discovery Opens Door For Radical Reduction in Energy Consumed By Digital Devices

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The atomic structure of a ferroelectric material exhibits the so-called negative capacitance effect.

Researchers say they have directly observed "negative capacitance" for the first time.

Credit: Suraj S. Cheema

University of California, Berkeley researchers say they have made the first direct observation of a phenomenon known as "negative capacitance." They discovered a unique reaction of electrical charge to applied voltage in a ferroelectric material, which could lead to a significant reduction in the power consumed by transistors and the devices containing them.

In the negative capacitance phenomenon, when the applied voltage is increased, the charge goes down. "This property, if successfully integrated into transistors, could reduce the amount of power they consume by at least an order of magnitude, and perhaps much more," says Berkeley professor Asif Khan. He says the technology could lead to longer-lasting cellphone batteries and less energy-consumptive computers, and it could extend by decades the trend toward faster, smaller processors.

The research also provides a possible way overcome the Boltzmann Tyranny, which limits the size of ultra-small transistors because they cannot dissipate the heat they generate to avoid self-immolation.

In addition, negative capacitance could be used to develop high-density memory storage devices, super capacitors, coil-free oscillators and resonators, and for harvesting energy from the environment.

Exploiting the negative capacitance of ferroelectrics is one in a list of strategies for reducing the per-joule cost of storing a single bit of information, according to Berkeley professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh.

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