Exploring Materials for a New Electronic Generation
As the processing capability of the silicon chip reaches its limits in today’s technology, scientists are speeding toward the discovery of new materials that will power the next generation of electronic devices.
Hugh Churchill has joined the race.
Churchill, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Arkansas, studies the basic physical properties of two-dimensional materials, which consist of a single layer of atoms.
“Our ability to further shrink silicon devices is coming to an end, so progress and new capabilities will have to come from ideas other than shrinking,” Churchill said. “This may include devices that are flexible and/or transparent, or that consume much less power by defining the ones and zeroes of computing in a fundamentally different way.”
Quantum devices are nanoscale electronic and optoelectronic devices with properties that are enabled or augmented by quantum effects. Some common optoelectronic devices are solar cells and light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs. One common quantum effect is called confinement, where the electrons in a material are forced to occupy a small region of space. Confinement can change the color of an LED, for example.
Churchill has established the Quantum Device Laboratory at the U of A, where his research group will fabricate and measure quantum devices, initially using 2-D materials.
“These metals and semiconductors provide the ingredients to make a wide variety of electronic and optoelectronic devices,” he said. “They are flexible and nearly transparent and also have interesting physical properties.”
Graphene, for instance, is a semi-metal. At only one-atom thick, high-quality graphene can be better conductor of electricity than gold or copper. Other 2-D materials have been studied for their potential electronic applications: hexagonal boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide.
“Layering these 2-D atomic materials on top of each other to create quantum effects give us a new freedom in constructing materials,” Churchill said.
Churchill earned two advanced degrees in physics at Harvard University. He came to the U of A from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a Pappalardo Postdoctoral Fellow. He is originally from Conway, Arkansas.