Written by Sophia Chen
Iuliana Radu of the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (imec), an institute dedicated to the research and development of nanoelectronics in Belgium, delivered a Symposium X lecture on Friday. Radu, a physicist by training, discussed how materials science can further increase computational power.
We currently live in an era where “the data center is the programming unit,” said Radu. People no longer store most of their data locally, instead piping it to a data center and processing it offsite. This has motivated the need for more powerful computation.
At imec, Radu and her colleagues develop the next generation of computers, where one approach is to shrink the transistor further. While researchers are studying a variety of materials and strategies for this, Radu’s presentation focused on a class of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides. As a two-dimensional material—in other words, when the material occurs as a single atomic layer—transition metal dichalcogenides can make transistors smaller by shortening its so-called gate length, compared to when they are made from silicon. One example of such a material is tungsten disulfide, which Radu has studied.
Radu described the current research on integrating these materials in transistors. One challenge is depositing them in stacked nanosheets on a substrate in a scalable process. Researchers are also studying the defects that occur in these materials.
In addition, researchers are considering how materials science can benefit future quantum computers. Radu anticipates this new type of computer, based not on transistors but on components known as quantum bits, or qubits, to be a paradigm shift for the field of computation, as they are capable of performing very different algorithms than classical computers.
Radu discussed two materials for making qubits—semiconductors and superconductors. Both types of qubit function at low temperatures near absolute zero, and the classical electronics that control the qubit will require materials that can function at these low temperatures.
Symposium X—Frontiers of Materials Research features lectures aimed at a broad audience to provide meeting attendees with an overview of leading-edge topics.