Named ‘Exotic Material’ To Induce Next-Gen Electronics

Devices made up of exotic material can conduct a current density 50 times greater than conventional copper interconnect technology

What is said to be an ‘exotic material’ for next-gen electronics, a group of engineers from University of California, Riverside, have demonstrated prototype devices that can conduct a current density 50 times greater than the conventional copper interconnect technology.

The electronics industry is gradually arrogating beyond silicon and copper to develop devices that can resist extremely high current densities at sizes of just a few nanometers.

A group of researchers led by Alexander A. Balandin, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering at UC Riverside, discovered that zirconium tritelluride, or ZrTe3, nanoribbons have an exceptionally high current density that far exceeds that of any conventional metals like copper.

Exotic Material
Microscopy image of an electronic device made with 1D ZrTe3 nanoribbons. The nanoribbon channel is indicated in green color. The metal contacts are shown in yellow color. Note than owing to the nanometer scale thickness the yellow metal contacts appear to be under the green channel while in reality they are on top.
Credit: Balandin lab, UC Riverside

The new strategy undertaken by the UC Riverside team pushes research from two-dimensional to one-dimensional materials — an important advance for the future generation of electronics.

“Conventional metals are polycrystalline. They have grain boundaries and surface roughness, which scatter electrons,” Balandin said. “Quasi-one-dimensional materials such as ZrTe3 consist of single-crystal atomic chains in one direction. They do not have grain boundaries and often have atomically smooth surfaces after exfoliation. We attributed the exceptionally high current density in ZrTe3 to the single-crystal nature of quasi-1D materials.”

In principle, such quasi-1D materials could be grown directly into nanowires with a cross-section that corresponds to an individual atomic thread, or chain. In the present study the level of the current sustained by the ZrTe3 quantum wires was higher than reported for any metals or other 1D materials. It almost reaches the current density in carbon nanotubes and graphene.

Electronic devices depend on special wiring to carry information between different parts of a circuit or system. As developers miniaturize devices, their internal parts also must become smaller, and the interconnects that carry information between parts must become smallest of all. Depending on how they are configured, the ZrTe3 nanoribbons could be made into either nanometer-scale local interconnects or device channels for components of the tiniest devices.

The UC Riverside group’s experiments were conducted with nanoribbons that had been sliced from a pre-made sheet of material.

Industrial applications need to grow nanoribbon directly on the wafer. This manufacturing process is already under development, and Balandin believes 1D nanomaterials hold possibilities for applications in future electronics.

“The most exciting thing about the quasi-1D materials is that they can be truly synthesized into the channels or interconnects with the ultimately small cross-section of one atomic thread — approximately one nanometer by one nanometer,” added Balandin.

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Niloy Banerjee

A generic movie-buff, passionate and professional with print journalism, serving editorial verticals on Technical and B2B segments, crude rover and writer on business happenings, spare time playing physical and digital forms of games; a love with philosophy is perennial as trying to archive pebbles from the ocean of literature. Lastly, a connoisseur in making and eating palatable cuisines.