In the development of new semiconductor technologies, advances in enablers such as new materials, designs, advanced automated tools, manufacturing methods, and equipment are vital. Semiconductors are essential components of an increasingly wide variety of products, and new semiconductor technologies could result in next-generation electronic devices that provide higher efficiencies, greater speeds, and more capabilities than electronic devices that use current semiconductor technologies can provide.
Computer-chip manufacturing is a lengthy process that can take weeks from design to mass production; however, multiple companies have reported recent progress in speeding up the process. For example, Nvidia Corporation recently reported a breakthrough in reducing the processing time of the inverse-lithography chip-making step. The company's new cuLitho software speeds up the process by 40 times (and cuts power consumption by 7 times) via the use of a library of algorithms that can run on graphics-processing units instead of on central processing units. Semiconductor manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) began trialing the use of cuLitho in production in June 2023, and chip designer Synopsys is integrating cuLitho into its full‑chip-mask-synthesis solutions. In China, start‑up Hefei Origin Quantum Computing Technology Co. launched a platform that can help speed up the production of quantum chips. The NDPT‑100 platform uses nondestructive electrical probing to gauge qubit resistance on qubit chips, accurately and speedily identifying the quality of quantum chips.
As Moore's law begins to reach its limits, researchers may be able to take techniques that can aggregate or grow components directly on silicon wafers and apply them to computer chips, which could help increase performance and efficiency and might one day enable multiple applications to merge into single devices. In January 2023, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported a method to grow a monolayer of two‑dimensional materials directly on a silicon wafer. The engineers used a modified metal-organic-chemical-vapor-deposition method to grow the material at lower-than-usual temperatures to preserve the silicon substrate. Using this method, the engineers fabricated a simple transistor. This research paves the way for the R&D of chips that stack layers of two‑dimensional materials (which are better conductors at the nanoscale than is silicon) to allow for denser, more powerful chips.
In another application of fabrication on silicon wafers, California-based xMEMS Labs designed a silicon-based MEMS (microelectromechanical-systems systems) microspeaker that provides several technological benefits. The company partnered with TSMC, which will apply its expertise in semiconductor-device fabrication to the production of the microspeaker.
Organic-materials-based electronic devices hold significant potential in biomedical applications and flexible electronics while benefiting from low-cost raw materials and easy manufacturing processes. Research efforts often focus on improving electrical properties, stability, and manufacturing methods. A recent study from Purdue University examined a polymer film that shows high conductivity and transparency comparable to those of indium tin oxide. The material is also stable in air and compatible with low-cost, high-volume manufacturing techniques. Because of these characteristics, the polymer film could one day enable flexible electronics. A significant amount of research concerns the development of organic transistors, and the following bullets outline some examples of such research.
- At Linköping University, scientists have created an electrochemical transistor from wood and a liquid conductive polymer. The transistor was able to regulate electric current and showed good response to gate-voltage modulation. The sustainable and biocompatible transistor could see use in embedded sensors for environmental monitoring and management.
- Northwestern University engineers fabricated a polymer-based transistor with a vertical architecture, which enabled high-density packing. The transistor exhibited high transconductance and low driving voltage and power consumption, representing a significant step forward in the field of organic transistors. Such lightweight, flexible, and biocompatible transistors could one day enable wearable and implantable biomedical sensors, soft robotics, and prosthetics, which is difficult to do with silicon-based transistors.
- In 2022, researchers at the Technische Universität Dresden reported the development of the world's first organic bipolar-junction transistor with an impressive unity-gain frequency in the gigahertz range, which is several times faster than are current state‑of-the‑art organic transistors. The transistor's biocompatibility and operation at high frequency make the transistor suitable for applications such as medical devices and data processing.
- Scientists from the University of Houston demonstrated the use of multiphoton 3D printers to create highly conductive microstructures with an organic-semiconductor-doped photosensitive resin. Using the resin, the scientists fabricated microprinted circuit boards and an array of microcapacitors or flexible substrates. The addition of the organic semiconductor increased the electrical conductivity of the resin by more than ten orders of magnitude. The scientists also demonstrated the incorporation of bioactive molecules within the material matrix, which could enable bioelectronic sensors and organs on chips.