A completely new method of manufacturing the smallest structures in electronics could make their manufacture thousands of times quicker, allowing for cheaper semiconductors. The findings have been published in the latest issue of Nature.
Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.
Behind the discovery is Lars Samuelson, Professor of Semiconductor Physics at Lund University, Sweden, and head of the University's Nanometre Structure Consortium. He believes the technology will be ready for commercialisation in two to four years' time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.
"When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said 'you're out of your mind, Lars; that would never work'. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of", he says.
"The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a substrate from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down!"
Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted. In the article in Nature, the researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold nanoparticles.
Recently, they have also built a prototype machine with a specially built oven. Using a series of ovens, the researchers expect to be able to 'bake' the nanowires, as the structures are called, and thereby develop multiple variants, such as p-n diodes.
A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.
"In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming", adds Lars Samuelson.
At the moment, the researchers are working to develop a good method to capture the nanowires and make them self-assemble in an ordered manner on a specific surface. This could be glass, steel or another material suited to the purpose.
The reason why no one has tested this method before, in the view of Professor Samuelson, is that today's method is so basic and obvious. Such things tend to be difficult to question.
However, the Lund researchers have a head start thanks to their parallel research based on an innovative method in the manufacture of nanowires on semiconductor wafers, known as epitaxy – consequently, the researchers have chosen to call the new method aerotaxy. Instead of sculpting structures out of silicon or another semiconductor material, the structures are instead allowed to develop, atomic layer by atomic layer, through controlled self-organisation.
The structures are referred to as nanowires or nanorods. The breakthrough for these semiconductor structures came in 2002 and research on them is primarily carried out at Lund, Berkeley and Harvard universities. The Lund researchers specialise in developing the physical and electrical properties of the wires, which helps create better and more energy-saving solar cells, LEDs, batteries and other electrical equipment that is now an integrated part of our lives.
Lund University: http://www.lu.se
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Kate Brooks' aerial photos show the beauty of Africa's elephants, and the catastrophic extinction they face at the hands of poachers.
It didn't feel like it in much of the U.S., but August set a record worldwide
More endangered sockeye salmon have made the 900-mile journey from the Pacific Ocean to central Idaho's high-elevation Redfish Lake this fall than in any previous year going back nearly six decades
With rising seas, cities like Satellite Beach, Fla., are debating options: defend the shoreline to avoid destruction, or retreat, withdrawing homes and businesses from the water's edge.
The extent of Antarctica's sea ice has hit yet another record high, and counter-intuitively global warming is responsible
The largest consumer of coal in the world has announced radical restrictions on coal imports and its domestic transport and use
An otherworldly photograph of a lagoon reflecting the swirls of the aurora has taken the top prize in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday gave final approval to new genetically modified corn and soybeans developed by Dow AgroSciences that, while heavily criticized by environmentalists and some farmers, are portrayed by Dow as an answer to weed resistance problems that limit crop production.
With new genetic insights, researchers aim to fight a devastating coffee fungus
Hedgehogs are more thinly spread in the UK than previously believed, a study using ink pads to record their paw prints reveals.