Radiation Resistant Circuits MadeCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: June 13, 2012 06:23AM
The conventional electronics we are all familiar with have it pretty easy. Aside from the occasional fall and power surge, our devices do not have to be able to survive much, but there are many other systems that do. Deep space and damaged nuclear power plants are both environments with high levels of ionizing radiation that would fry the normal computer. To keep the silicon circuits working, large quantities of shielding will be installed to protect them, but this is not an ideal solution to the problem.
Another solution is to step away from silicon and semiconductors for circuitry, and instead use mechanical switches. These switches will not be affected by radiation and even high temperatures, but often require a great deal of power to operate, are large compared to semiconductor transistors, and are not as fast as silicon. Researchers at the University of Utah and Case Western Reserve University found a way to mitigate these drawbacks to mechanical switches by making microelectromechanical (MEM) logic gates.
As the name suggests, microelectromechanical devices are small pieces of technology that connect electrical and mechanical forces. By using a MEM system to researchers got the technology to be much smaller than previous mechanical switches, which also brought down energy requirements from 10-20 V to just 1.5 V. Also, by making full 'and' and 'exclusive or' (XOR) logic gates, instead of just switches, the devices are much faster than previous switches.
They may still be larger and slower than silicon logic gates, but this new approach could prove useful in making radiation resistant computers. As the gates physically change according to the signals they receive, ionizing radiation does not damage them like it does silicon transistors. To test this, the researchers placed their gates in the university's nuclear reactor for two hours, and they continued functioning normally. The silicon counterparts also placed in the reactor died within minutes.