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NIST Engineers Discover Fundamental Flaw in Transistor Theory

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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) engineers have uncovered a flaw in the understanding of transistor noise, a phenomenon affecting the electronic on-off switch that is the foundation of computer circuits. The NIST engineers say that unless it is corrected, the flaw could prevent the development of more efficient, lower-powered devices.

The engineers have found that a widely accepted model explaining errors caused by electronic "noise" in the switches does not actually work. Defects in the materials used by transistors can divert the flow of electricity and cause the device to rapidly fluctuate between the on and off positions. The industry has accepted a theoretical model that identifies these defects and helps designers mitigate them.

A theory known as the elastic tunneling model predicts that as transistors shrink, the fluctuations should increase in frequency. However, the NIST researchers have shown that even in nanometer-sized transistors, the fluctuation frequency remains the same, which means the theory explaining the effect must be wrong, says lead researcher Jason Campbell.

"The model was a good working theory when transistors were large, but our observations clearly indicate that it's incorrect at the smaller nanoscale regimes where industry is headed," Campbell says. The findings have a particular impact on the low-power transistors that are used in smartphones and laptops.

From NIST Tech Beat
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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