Magazine article Science News

The Fastest Transistors in the World

Magazine article Science News

The Fastest Transistors in the World

Article excerpt

The fastest transistors in the world

In the race to make computers computer faster and communication systems convey more information, the speed at which electronic components operate is of paramount importance. Last week, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with researchers at General Electric Laboratory in Syracuse, N.Y., pulled ahead of the pack by announcing that they had developed the world's fastest transistor. Depending on whom one speaks to, however, the Illinois-G.E. team may be running neck and neck with a research group working on a different kind of transistor at Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Mass.

Illinois team leader Hadis Morkoc estimates that his group's transistor, a type of semiconductor device called a modulation-doped field-effect transistor (MODFET), has a maximum operating frequency of 230 billion hertz (GHz) -- about one and a half times higher than the previous MODFET record. Phillip Smith at G.E. says he expects that the device, with refinement, could achieve 400 GHz or more. The higher the maximum operating frequency, the more information a device can receive or transmit when it's used in analog circuits. And a high maximum operating frequency means that the device, when used digitally in computers, has a fast switching speed.

Gerald L. Witt of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Washington, D.C., calls the 230-GHz number "astounding." Smith thinks the new device will have a "significant impact" in communications and he anticipates that "most people now working on conventional MODFETs will drop them in favor of this new device. …

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