Bringing Back the Vacuum Tube in ElectronicsCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: May 18, 2012 08:33PM
One of the reasons we have the technology we currently do, like MP3 players, smartphones, PCs, and a great deal more, is because semiconductor transistors were developed to replace bulky vacuum tubes. While semiconductors allowed technology to drastically shrink in size, their use does not come without some costs. High-radiation environments, such as space, can damage semiconductors, and electrons travel slower in them than in vacuum tubes. Of course we cannot go back to classic vacuum tubes, especially with some modern computers components having billions of transistors, but researchers have devised a vacuum channel transistor which combines the best of both technologies.
As reported in the American Institute of Physics' Applied Physics Letters journal, researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center, and the National Nanofab Center in Korea have designed a vacuum channel transistor that is roughly 150 nm long and can be made with current fabrication methods. At 150 nm long this is obviously a much larger device than the 22 nm and 32 nm transistors we see in current CPUs. Its current size does allow it to operate on less than 10 V though, and the researchers believe they can improve the design to operate at about 1 V, which would put it in competition with modern semiconductor transistors. Once that is achieved, it will probably start appearing in places modern semiconductors just do not survive or are not always fast enough.