Much of modern technology relies on the physics of electricity in a somewhat classical form. In the future though, quantum mechanical effects may be utilized to improve the performance of these electronic devices. Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology, the SEMATECH consortium, and Texas State University have recently constructed a new transistor that uses one of this quantum effects: tunneling.
In classical physics, when a moving object comes to a hill, it will try to climb it, and if it cannot get over the summit, it will roll back the way it came. Quantum mechanics however gives the object a means to skip the hill altogether, as though it went through a tunnel. There are several advantages to having signals tunnel through barriers or hills, including that this can be accomplished with considerably less energy than having to go over the barrier.
What the researchers did is build the first tunneling field effect transistors that are able to operate at large enough currents to be practical replacements for modern transistors. If these new transistors were used to replace modern ones, battery life could increase by a factor of 10, thanks to the lesser energy needed for the tunneling phenomenon.