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Moore’s Law under threat thanks to silicon alternatives

Moore’s Law suggests that computational power should, in theory, double every two years; but that understanding is now being put under severe strain. Mardochee Reveil, a chemical and biomolecular engineering PhD student as well as a member of the Paulette Clancy research group, is one at the forefront of researching processes at the heart of computational power.

Reveil’s primary focus is researching new materials that could be used for semiconductors as an alternative to silicon.

Progress in computing power focused on reducing transistors’ sizes made of silicon, but now tech industries have to face the scalability limits of the element. For example, the heat that’s given off by denser transistors can be too high for the element to handle.

New materials formed from III and V alloys could be the answer to silicon.

“Their charge carriers can travel much faster than they can in silicon. Imagine a device 10 times faster and still dissipating the same or less heat and still of the same size,” Reveil tells Cornell University.

“I was impressed by how much work goes into our having computers and smartphones that we can use on a daily basis, I became interested in contributing to the field”

“The industry is reaching a point where we need to consider not only how to improve computing power, but also how to do it in a more energy-efficient way,” he adds.

Alternative solutions to silicon might challenge, or even break, Moore’s Law

According to Cornell, not much is known about these materials, but were discovered when the materials went through an annealing process — a process that heats semiconductors to change their electrical properties. The change in temperature can be difficult to observe.

“This is a very, very fast process by which the sample is heated at a rate of a million kelvin. You can imagine that it can be very challenging to measure the temperature while it is changing so rapidly,” said Reveil.

One annealing method that shows promise consists of using bursts of laser radiation which lasts for “sub-milliseconds”.

CLASP (Cornell Laser Annealing Simulation Package), the software which detects the subtle changes was developed by Cornell University. In the first six months that Reveil has been at Cornell, he expanded CLASP to scan a wider variety of material such as indium gallium arsenide and other III-V materials.

Ultimately, the III-V materials could challenge, and potentially break, Moore’s longstanding law.

Featured image: Paul Downey via Flickr 

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