Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Reinventing the Transistor

PostedFebruary 14, 2016

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Anchor Lede: Transistors are the basic building blocks of electronics. In other words, they make the modern world run. Problem is they leak a lot of energy.

Randy Atkins: Transistors – usually made of silcon – compute, store, and transmit information. But as electronic gadgets have gotten smaller, they’ve become less energy efficient. You probably notice by frequent cell phone charging. But Kaustav Banerjee, an engineer at the University of California Santa Barbara, says huge data centers have the same flaw.

Kaustav Banerjee: What happens to the transistor’s power and leakage essentially translates to a very large global-scale energy consumption problem.

Randy Atkins: So Banerjee is creating transistors that can take advantage of a quantum mechanical process called tunneling with a new material, molybdenum disulfide, in layers only an atom thick.

Kaustav Banerjee: They have pristine interfaces so there are no defects.

Randy Atkins: Banerjee says that makes the tunneling transistors much more efficient and he’s demonstrated power savings 144 times greater than with silicon. Impacts could range from lower carbon emissions to new technologies that better connect people and valuable information. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.