Boffins go ballistic over next-gen transistor design

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Boffins go ballistic over next-gen transistor design

'Radical' computing chip bounces electrons around.

'Radical' computing chip bounces electrons around.

Computer designers at the US University of Rochester are going ballistic over a "radical" transistor design which they claim will revolutionise semiconductor development.

"Everyone has been trying to make better transistors by modifying current designs, but what we really need is the next paradigm," explained Quentin Diduck, a graduate student at the university who thought up the radical new design.

"We've gone from the relay, to the tube to semiconductor physics. Now we're taking the next step on the evolutionary track."

The boffins claim that their Ballistic Deflection Transistor represents a radical departure from traditional tube-based transistor design.

Instead of running electrons through a transistor as if they were a current of water, the ballistic design bounces individual electrons off deflectors as if playing a game of atomic billiards.

According to the scientists, today's transistor design still has many years of viability, but the amount of heat these transistors generate and the electrical 'leaks' in their ultra-thin barriers have already begun to limit their speed. 

The Ballistic Deflection Transistor adds a new twist by bouncing the electrons into their chosen trajectories, using inertia to redirect for "free" instead of wrestling the electrons into place with brute energy, the researchers explained.

Such a chip would use very little power, create very little heat, be highly resistant to the "noise" inherent in electronic systems, and should be easy to manufacture with current technologies.

All is would make it "incredibly fast", according to the researchers.

The National Science Foundation is so impressed with the idea that it has granted the University of Rochester team US$1.1m to develop a prototype.

Marc Feldman, professor of computer engineering at the university, said: "In addition to myself and Quentin, we have a theoretical physicist, a circuit designer, and an expert in computer architecture.

"We're not just designing a new transistor, but a new archetype as well, and as far as I know, this is the first time an architect has been involved in the actual design of the transistor on which the entire architecture is built."

The team has already had some luck in fabricating a prototype. The Ballistic Deflection Transistor is a nano-scale structure, and all but impossible to engineer just a few years ago.

Its very design means that this "large" prototype is already nearly as small as the best conventional transistor designs coming out of Silicon Valley today. Feldman and Diduck are confident that the design will readily scale to much smaller dimensions.
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