No More "Silicon" Valley

Stanford Univ. scientists identify a compound that could make silicon obsolete

By Marie C. Baca
|  Thursday, Jun 18, 2009  |  Updated 2:46 PM CDT
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No More "Silicon" Valley

Physicists at Stanford have found a compound that could eventually replace silicon, the material currently used to make computer chips.

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Just call it Bismuth Telluride Valley.

Stanford University physicists have found that electrons in a unique chemical compound travel without losing energy. If further research shows that bismuth telluride can carry large currents of electrons, the material could be used to make computers that are far cheaper and more powerful than anything currently on the market.

The findings were published in the June 11 issue of journal Science Express.

For the past 40 years, the processing power and memory of the world's computers has grown exponentially at a rate known as Moore's Law. Historically, these advancements have been made as engineers find ways to fit an increasing number of components onto a silicon chip.

But as researchers hit the physical limits of what silicon can accomodate, a new technology must arise in order for Moore's Law to continue.   

Bismuth telluride appears promising because it allows electrons to flow without resistance, meaning that no energy is lost. Additionally, the electrons that pass through the compound carry both a positive or negative charge as well as an up or down spin.

This additional layer of information, explored in a new field known as "spintronics," allows more information to be stored than is possible with silicon.

Scientists associated with the project say that the next step is to see if bismuth telluride can be mass produced and adapted for computing purposes.

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