Professor Makes Nanotechnology Breakthrough

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The size of electronic devices may be significantly reduced thanks to the technology created by a UC Berkeley scientist.

Peidong Yang, a UC Berkeley chemistry professor, announced Tuesday that he has created a new technique that could combine different materials into a single nanowire-a move previously thought to be impossible.

Nanowires-one millionth of a meter in width-are crucial to the underpinnings of future consumer electronics. Their applications could include smaller medical devices, chemical sensory probes and lasers.

Yang's development allows a single nanowire to be a complete device rather than having multiple wires making up different parts of a single component. It allows entire electronic devices to fit on one nanowire-smaller than one on-hundredth of a human hair.

"Transistor junctions, light-emitting diodes and lasers (will fit) into a single nanodevice that would be much smaller in scale," Yang said. "A two-dimensional computer device (can now fit) into a one dimensional device."

Previous methods require two nanowires to create a simple electronic device, such as a light-emitting diode commonly found in personal computers.

Similar work was also done by a group of scientists from Lund University in Sweden.

Both teams are working toward nanowire production that is cheaper and quicker to produce.

"In the next five or 10 years, we will see much smaller transistors," Yang said. "If you look at many semiconductor devices today, many devices have junctions. We are able to replace these junctions with nanowires."

While each team manufactured stable nanowires, Yang believes his method is better than that of his Swedish counterparts.

"(My) approach is better due to the level of control in terms of what and how much matter you can combine together," he said.

Such control comes from the combination of two processes. First, chemical-vapor deposition combines a mixture of different gases and laser-pulse deposition by shining a laser beam at a target material to produce a specific vapor.

The gases are then condensed onto a substrate material such as silicon. Because both processes are carefully controlled, individual nanowire can be custom-tailored to fit the needs of the manufacturer.

Researchers can now combine properties such as the ability to store information, regulate current flow, generate light and disperse thermal energy in a single nanowire, instead of a much bigger microchip.

Because of the technique, millions of nanowires can be created in only one hour, vastly reducing the cost of production.

By implementing these function-specific nanowires, microprocessors and semiconductors will be significantly reduced in size.

"Nanomaterial will shrink down the size and enhance the density of the material, which is better than conventional materials," said Yiying Wu, a chemistry graduate student who is part of Yang's team.

While the possibility of palm-sized computers is still years away, Yang and his researchers will continue to do more fundamental research on nanotechnology.

Future nanodevices may become "potential building blocks" for future electronic devices, said Yang.


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