Silicon resides at the heart of most of our technology, thanks to its semiconducting nature. While it has served us well for multiple decades, we are approaching its limit, so alternatives are being developed. One such alternative are metal-insulator-metal diodes, which Oregon State University have recently made an important advance with.
Metal-insulator-metal, or MIM diodes have an insulating layer sandwiched between two conducting layers, causing electrons to tunnel through the insulator to complete a circuit. As electrons can potentially tunnel faster than they can travel through silicon, this design has a speed advantage over the semiconductor. The Oregon researchers have improved the design further by adding a second insulator layer, making an MIIM diode. This second layer allows step tunneling to occur, so electrons can tunnel through one or both layers. This is helpful as it allow for better control of diode asymmetry, to ensure the electrical current can only travel in one direction.
Potentially this design could be applied to many electronic technologies, including computers that could operate significantly faster than those currently available. Fortunately the materials used in the MIIM diode are inexpensive enough that the diodes could be mass produced at low cost.
Source: Oregon State University