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A New Kind of Computer Chip: Silicon May Be Replaced by New Material


In Brief

Scientists have discovered a material that could be better suited for computer chips than the ubiquitous silicon. Individual regions within one piece of the material can be controlled in multiple way, which could pave the way for smaller and more adaptable chips.

Changing Chips

At the forefront of computing technology for decades, silicon-based chips’ reign may soon end, as today’s chip designers are looking for other materials that offer more options and more amazing abilities than the silicon we all know and love.

This new trend has spurred the guys at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop what could be the foundation for multi-role computer chips.

In a recent study, ORNL scientists looked at single crystal complex oxide materials at the very smallest levels. They discovered that that contained in just one piece of this material were multiple tiny regions that each responded to magnetic and electrical stimuli differently.

This is due to a feature called phase separation, and it means the individual regions within one piece of material can be controlled in multiple ways, similar to multi-component electrical circuits.

“Within a single piece of material, there are coexisting pockets of different magnetic and/or electronic behaviors,”said Zac Ward, the study’s corresponding author, in a statement. “The fact that it is possible to also move these elements around offers the intriguing opportunity of creating rewritable circuitry in the material.”

One Chip, Many Functions

This development means that designers can move away from the “one-chip-fits-all” approach. Instead of using chips that can perform only one function, we can create chips that are multifunctional. It also paves the way for smaller chips since the material holds many circuit components at the nanoscale level.

This is but one of the new developments from ORNL that could revolutionize the chip industry. They are also working on a method to write tiny patterns on metallic ink, a miniature version of the printed circuit boards and chips we have today.

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