Life After Transistors: Where to for Electronics Now?


Speaker: Associate Professor Adam Micolich (School of Physics, University of New South Wales)
Date: 29th October 2010

The transistor is now a very mature technology.  After 60 years of development it has been shrunk by a factor of ~ 2.5 million in size, from a grenade-sized lump of germanium to the tiny twenty-nanometer long channels etched by the billion into silicon wafers today. The technology that it enables has taken us from typewriters through to touchscreens, and has radically changed the way we live our lives.  The idea of simply continuing to make ever smaller transistors is about to hit a brick wall due to some harsh realities of physics. Many find this a frightening prospect, but it presents some exciting opportunities to find new ways of doing electronics, and even possibly the next big thing after electronics.

In something resembling a tour around an electronic zoo, I will explore some of the menagerie of interesting device concepts and ideas sitting at the fringe of electronics as we’d normally think about it.  I will start with the more conventional devices, where we use advanced semiconductors to explore how the quantum properties of electrons both affects device operation, and may allow new ways for devices to work.  This will include interesting devices ranging from the electronic equivalent of a pool table through to work on concepts for transistors aimed at using spin rather than charge.  As we get to the end of the tour, I will briefly touch on some thoughts on where we might go if we break away from the 60 years spent on semiconductors so far and look instead to the ~3 billion years that Nature has developing ‘electronics’ without using Silicon, Germanium or Gallium Arsenide…