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Semiconductor-Free Microelectronics Are Now Possible, Thanks to Metamaterials


The semiconductor-free microelectronic device.

University of California San Diego researchers have fabricated the first semiconductor-free, optically-controlled microelectronic device.

Credit: Applied Electromagnetics Group, University of California, San Diego

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers say they have developed the first semiconductor-free, optically controlled microelectronic device built from metamaterials.

The device exhibits a 1,000% increase in conductivity when activated by low voltage and a low power laser.

The researchers sought to remove hindrances associated with existing microelectronic devices by replacing semiconductors with free electrons in space, but liberating electrons from materials requires either applying high voltages, high power lasers, or extremely high temperatures, which are impractical in micro- and nanoscale electronic devices.

The researchers say they fabricated a microscale device that can release electrons from a material without such extreme requirements. The device consists of a metasurface on top of a silicon wafer, with a layer of silicon dioxide in between. The metasurface is comprised of an array of gold nanostructures on an array of parallel gold strips, so when low DC voltage and a low power infrared laser are both applied, the metasurface generates "hot spots" that provide enough energy to pull electrons out from the metal and liberate them into space.

"This...may be the best approach for certain specialty applications, such as very high frequencies or high-power devices," says UCSD professor Dan Sievenpiper.

From University of California, San Diego
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