WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As computers are embedded into everything, from wearables and clothing, to even human cells, they’ve got to get smaller – and they are.
As transistors get ever smaller, with 7nm transistors now going into production and 5nm, 1nm, 0.5nm, and 0.1nm, and even atom sized, liquid transistors, and Bio-Compatible transistors that can be integrated into the human brain already in the labs, researchers from China have reported success developing 3nm transistors – about the width of a human DNA strand – that show promise for practical use in chips according to work recently published in the IEEE Electron Device Letters.
Yin Huaxiang, one of the researchers involved in the work and deputy director of microelectronics device and integrated technology at the Institute of Microelectronics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported one of the key obstacles overcome was the so-called Boltzmann Tyranny – a problem involving the distribution of electrons in a space.
A brief account of the work is also presented in the South China Morning Post. Yin’s team, using a method known as negative capacitance, was able to power transistors by using half the theoretical minimum amount of electricity required.
“This is the most exciting part of our work. It is not just another new finding in a laboratory. It has a high potential for real, serious applications, and we have the patent” said Huaxiang in the SCMP article. Commercialization could take a few years as the team worked on materials and quality control, according to the researcher.
Others are also working on 3nm chip technology including Samsung which according to the article planned to complete the development of a 3nm transistor by the first half of next year, and compared to current 7nm technology, Samsung said a processor built with its 3nm transistors would use half as much power to achieve a 35 per cent higher performance. And as the US starts upping the ante with China, and banning companies including Huawei and ZTE access to US technology, including semiconductors, the breakthrough would put China into a “head-on competition with the world’s top players at the very front line of chip development,” Huaxiang said.
Overall though, between the ratcheting up of tariffs and tensions, and China’s desire to become the world’s technology superpower, with multiple breakthroughs across multiple sectors, from quantum communications and quantum radar, through to breakthroughs in AI, cyber, gene editing, and robotics, don’t be surprised when the time rolls round that the US is no longer king of the hill. China’s woken up.