Wed, Dec 23, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Taiwanese lab develops smallest-ever transistor

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

The world’s first 4-nanometer compound transistor has been developed by the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL), a major breakthrough in semiconductor manufacturing technology, as the smallest compound transistors that can be commercially produced are 14-nanometers.

According to Moore’s law, the number of transistors in a dense IC doubles approximately every two years, which means transistors shrink to fit more semiconductor nodes into an IC, NARL researcher Chen Min-cheng (陳旻政) said yesterday.

The iPhone 6, released in September last year, uses a 20-nanometer chip produced by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, which was able to mass produce the 16-nanometer chips used in the iPhone 6S released in September, Chen said, adding that the iPhone 6S also used a 14-nanometer chip supplied by Samsung Electronics Co, making the production of semiconductors a highly competitive industry.

Five-nanometer transistors were thought to be the end of Moore’s law for scaling electronic devices, as 5 nanometers represents the physical limit of silicon, which is almost always used in semiconductor production, Chen said.

“However, the NARL developed a 4-nanometer transistor by using molybdenum disulfide compound, a semiconductor that is starting to be used in combination with silicone,” he said.

The NARL also developed a semiconductor manufacturing technology that could double the speed of electrical conduction by carving a fourth channel into the transistor — compared with the traditional three-channel design — to create an extra route for the electrical current to pass through, he said.

The channel is coated with germanium, which is a semiconductor like silicon, but has faster electrical conductivity, so it is generally considered to be the first semiconductor material to be mass produced after silicon, he said.

The NARL said that the technologies could be transferred to Taiwanese semiconductor companies to improve their competitiveness.

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