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NSF Grant Funds Study to Develop a Transistor Based on Two-Dimensional Crystals to Lower the Energy Consumption of Electronics

PITTSBURGH (May 19, 2016) … Two University of Pittsburgh researchers in the Swanson School of Engineering received a $496,272 grant from the National Science Foundation to study two-dimensional semiconductors with the goal of demonstrating a switch that requires less power than conventional silicon-based transistors. 

“As electronic devices continue to become more integrated into our daily lives, more energy is required to power these devices,” said Susan Fullerton, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and principle investigator of the study. “On a large scale, decreasing the power requirements of electronics would impact global energy consumption.”

Eric Beckman, the George M. Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, will join Fullerton as co-principle investigator of the study, “A New Approach to Explore the Semiconductor-to-Metal Phase Transition in Two-Dimensional (2D) Crystals Using Ionomers.”

The individual layers of 2D crystals can be isolated to make electronic devices that are a single atom or molecule thick. The semiconductor research community has been studying these materials extensively for the past decade as a potential low-voltage replacement for traditional complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) electronics. The key is triggering the material to switch very abruptly from a state in which the flow of charge is restricted (insulator) to a state in which charge can flow easily (conductor) and to do this at low voltage. 

Fullerton and Beckman will use a type of polymer electrolyte called an ionomer to induce this abrupt switching in the 2D crystal with an applied field. Theoretical predictions indicate that the material can switch states from an insulator to a conductor when a sufficient amount of strain is applied, and Fullerton and Beckman will deliver that strain at low voltage by custom-synthesized ionomers.

Beyond nanoelectronics for logic, the research will contribute to the development of materials and phase change devices that respond to electrical, chemical or strain stimuli, with potential application in brain-inspired computing and artificial synapses.


Pictured above: Dr. Beckman (left) with Dr. Fullerton in the Fullerton Group Lab 

Author: Matt Cichowicz, University Communications Contributing Writer and Editor

Contact: Paul Kovach