Could This Material Replace Silicon?

By Aaryaa Padhyegurjar

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A semiconductor superior to silicon has been discovered by researchers, opening the door for future faster and more compact computer circuits.

According to a recent study that was just published in the Science journal, cubic boron arsenide is substantially more mobile than silicon, the common semiconductor used in electronics and computers, for both electrons and their positively charged counterparts. Along with having higher ambipolar mobility, cubic boron arsenide conducts heat better than silicon, which could help prevent overheating and the requirement for cooling systems in electronics.

“Heat is now a major bottleneck for many electronics,” said Jungwoo Shin, a postdoc at MIT and the lead author of the paper. He gave the example of how silicon is being replaced in power electronics in electric vehicles, notably those built by Tesla, with silicon carbide, which has three times the thermal conductivity of silicon. The lighter and longer-ranged cars are made possible by the more sophisticated semiconductor compound.

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“Imagine what boron arsenides can achieve, with 10 times higher thermal conductivity and much higher mobility than silicon,” he said, calling the material a potential “gamechanger.” According to the researchers, it is the “greatest semiconductor material ever found” and possibly the best one that might exist.

Although cubic boron arsenide appears to meet all the criteria for the ideal semiconductor, it is still unclear whether it is a feasible alternative to silicon because scientists have not yet discovered a workable method to create high-quality cubic boron arsenide in large quantities.

“One major challenge is to grow high-quality cubic boron arsenide crystals,” said Gang Chen, one of the researchers and a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To commercialize this material, I think more effort is needed to investigate the synthesis of high-purity crystals,” he added.  “Whether or where it’s going to actually be used, we do not know.”

Access the paper by clicking here.


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