AMBER research breakthrough could lead to smarter, greener electronic devices

Posted on: 22 August 2016

Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have created a simpler process to produce germanium-tin nanowires (germanium is a semiconductor with superior electronic properties compared with silicon). The research breakthrough recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications describes this new process as essential in potentially enabling the production of an entirely new generation of faster, smaller and greener electronic devices.

Professor Justin Holmes, Investigator at AMBER and Professor of Nanochemistry at University College Cork

The research team at AMBER have successfully fabricated highly crystalline, germanium–tin nanowires. The nanowires were grown from a simple, cheap and scalable gas-phase process employing a unique combination of chemical reactions developed by the AMBER team in Ireland.  Importantly, the nanowires produced are expected to lead to electronic devices that are up to 125 times more power efficient than conventional devices due to the unique electrical properties of germanium-tin, ultimately resulting in smarter and greener electronic gadgets, such as mobile phones, tablets, sensors and smart watches.

Professor Justin Holmes, Investigator at AMBER and Professor of Nanochemistry at University College Cork, said: “This is a significant advancement in the field of nanostructure research and opens up new possibilities for the development of future technologies. Current mobile devices based on existing technology are energy inefficient, due to high power consumption and the dissipation of a large amount of heat, leading to wasteful battery usage or the requirement for elaborate cooling systems. In the field of electronics and optics, manipulation of nanoscale structures should lead to more energy efficient phones and computers.”

Nanowires are similar to normal electrical wires but are extremely small, typically thinner than one thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. Just like normal wires, nanowires can be made from a variety of different materials, including metals such as copper and gold or semiconductors such as silicon and germanium.

Nanowires often exhibit unique optical, electrical and even mechanical properties that are not found in bulk materials, making them very attractive for a range of applications that include chemical and biological sensors, computer circuitry and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Notably, increasing the number of nanowire switches (or transistors) on a silicon chip enables the production of faster, smaller and more mobile electronic devices.

The AMBER team are currently in collaboration with industrial partners to demonstrate the commercial viability of nanowire-based energy efficient electronic and optical devices within a 5-year timeframe.

The paper can be found in full here.

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