UI researchers develop world’s fastest transistor

By Julian Scharman

Researchers and graduate students in Engineering at the University are blowing the top off the realm of transistors. The Micro and Nano Technology building on campus is where a professor-led squad stands at the forefront of ultra-fast transistor technology.

Three years of development, $14 million and nearly a decade of research have paid off. Milton Feng, professor in electrical and computer engineering, and his team of graduate engineers have completed their development of an 845-gigahertz transistor, now the world’s fastest. Three hundred gigahertz faster than its competition, the ultra-fast “Pseudomorphic Heterojunction Bipolar Transistor,” or PHBT, comes from improvements on a series of several slower predecessors.

“Basically we have been improving the performance of these devices,” said graduate student William Snodgrass. “However, the first students working on this project were more focused on just creating the process and the methods and not so much on the optimization of materials, which takes time.”

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the new PHBT, measuring .3 microns by 4 microns (one micron equals one millionth of a meter,) has many practical applications, including an enormous increase in bandwidth capability for Internet users. Additionally, as the transistor approaches the one terahertz region (1,000 GHz), major improvements will be made in the enhancement of security, medical, and security imaging and security identification, Feng said.

After the research process is done, half of the development battle is fought in the actual fabrication and construction of the device, Snodgrass said.

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    “The design is really the other side of the coin, in creating the physical layout, the dimensions and the types of metals that are going to be used,” Snodgrass said. “So part of it is specifying the design material itself, as well as the designing the structure and architecture of the device.”

    Snodgrass, who has been working on the research team for the last three years, traveled last December to the International Electron Devices meeting in San Francisco, the world’s chief source for the biggest breakthroughs in nanotechnology.

    Should the PHBT be successful, it can be expected to become mainstreamed and manufactured in about 10 years.

    “These developments (on the PHBT) are the results of many students who have worked on this project before me for about 10 years now,” Snodgrass said, “We are really standing on the shoulders of those people.”