Scientists at Columbia University have discovered a groundbreaking ‘superatomic’ material that outperforms silicon as the fastest and most efficient semiconductor to date. The material, known as Re6Se8Cl2, is composed of a combination of rhenium, selenium, and chlorine atoms, which form clusters that mimic a single giant atom. This unique property gives the material its exceptional speed.
Semiconductors are the backbone of electronic devices, with silicon currently holding the dominant position in the industry. Silicon-based transistors and integrated circuits are the foundation of everything from smartphones to supercomputers. However, the newly discovered Re6Se8Cl2 material demonstrates superior performance.
In all materials, the atomic structure generates small vibrations known as phonons that behave as quantum particles. These phonons can scatter energy-carrying particles, such as electrons or excitons, resulting in energy loss as heat. Managing this energy is a constant challenge in designing electronic chips and systems.
Re6Se8Cl2 exhibits a unique characteristic that sets it apart from other materials. Instead of scattering when hit by phonons, the material’s excitons bind to them, creating a novel quasi-particle called acoustic exciton-polarons. These polarons can still carry energy but travel at a slower pace than regular excitons. Surprisingly, this ultimately leads to faster speeds compared to silicon.
The research team likens this phenomenon to the story of the tortoise and the hare. While electrons can move quickly through silicon, they tend to bounce around, resulting in inefficient travel paths. On the other hand, the polarons in Re6Se8Cl2 move at a slower pace but remain unaffected by other phonons, allowing for more consistent and extended movement over time.
The team found that the polarons in Re6Se8Cl2 move approximately twice as fast as electrons in silicon. Considering that they can be controlled by light instead of electricity, the researchers estimate that theoretical electronic devices made from this material could be six orders of magnitude faster than existing ones.
Although the use of Re6Se8Cl2 in consumer goods is unlikely due to the rarity and cost of rhenium, the researchers believe that similar materials with comparable behavior could be discovered in the future at a more affordable price. They suggest that there is a wide range of superatomic and other two-dimensional semiconductor materials with properties favorable for acoustic polaron formation that have yet to be explored.
Milan Delor, one of the study’s authors, stated that Re6Se8Cl2 currently represents the best semiconductor for energy transport that scientists know of. The breakthrough opens the door for predicting the behavior of other materials and potentially uncovering new possibilities in electronic devices.
While immediate applications of this material in consumer technology may not be feasible, the research paves the way for further exploration and the development of faster, more efficient semiconductors in the future.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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