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Steampunk Chip Takes the Heat


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Steampunk, the reimagining of modern day technology through a Victorian perspective, has found an unlikely follower in the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). A DARPA-funded project has reinvented a type of logic gate in the style of Victorian inventor Charles Babbage—not for aesthetic reasons, but because the retro device works at temperatures too high for conventional transistors. It could therefore find uses in, say, jet and rocket engine electronics.

Babbage famously designed mechanical computers through which data would circulate as steam-driven pistons turned cogs and levers. His unwieldy contraptions were superseded by electronic computers, through which data is transmitted via vast arrays of transistors in the form of varying voltages.

In a transistor, the voltage applied to one of the terminals, the gate, determines whether a current flows through it. But above 250 °C, the device becomes so awash with thermally generated electrons—even when it is supposedly off—that the voltage leaks through the gate to render the device useless. Even silicon carbide, the semiconductor material hardiest against heat, doesn't remedy the situation.

From New Scientist
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