by Staff Writers
Lausanne, Switzerland (SPX) Nov 25, 2011
By 2017, quantum physics will help reduce the energy consumption of our computers and cellular phones by up to a factor of 100. For research and industry, the power consumption of transistors is a key issue. The next revolution will likely come from tunnel-FET, a technology that takes advantage of a phenomenon referred to as "quantum tunneling."
At the EPFL, but also in the laboratories of IBM Zurich and the CEA-Leti in France, research is well underway. As part of a special issue of Nature devoted to silicon, Adrian Ionescu, an EPFL researcher, has written an article on the topic. Transistors that exploit a quantum quirk
Today's computers have no less than a billion transistors in the CPU alone. These small switches that turn on and off provide the famous binary instructions, the 0s and 1s that let us send emails, watch videos, move the mouse pointer... and much more.
The technology used in today's transistors is called "field effect;" whereby voltage induces an electron channel that activates the transistor. But field effect technology is approaching its limits, particularly in terms of power consumption.
Tunnel-FET technology is based on a fundamentally different principle. In the transistor, two chambers are separated by an energy barrier. In the first, a horde of electrons awaits while the transistor is deactivated.
When voltage is applied, they cross the energy barrier and move into the second chamber, activating the transistor in so doing.
In the past, the tunnel effect was known to disrupt the operation of transistors. According to quantum theory, some electrons cross the barrier, even if they apparently don't have enough energy to do so.
By reducing the width of this barrier, it becomes possible to amplify and take advantage of the quantum effect - the energy needed for the electrons to cross the barrier is drastically reduced, as is power consumption in standby mode.
Mass production is imminent
The new generation microchips will combine conventional and tunnel-FET technology. "The current prototypes by IBM and the CEA-Leti have been developed in a pre-industrial setting. We can reasonably expect to see mass production by around 2017."
An essential technology for a major European project
"In the Guardian Angels project, one of our objectives is to find solutions to reduce the power consumption of processors. Tunnel-FET is the next revolution that will help us achieve this goal."
The aim: design ultra-miniaturized, zero-power electronic personal assistants. Tunnel-FET technology is one of the first major stages in the project's roadmap. IBM and the CEA-Leti are also partners in the project.
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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Ballmer says "Windows Era" everlasting
San Francisco (AFP) Nov 15, 2011
Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer proclaimed an everlasting "Windows Era" as the software giant's board easily won re-election at an annual meeting of shareholders on Tuesday. Ballmer along with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and six others saw their positions on the Microsoft board secured with more than 92 percent of votes cast by investors. In response t ... read more
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