Big News about Small Devices

Devices get smaller, IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting gets larger and more diverse

6 October 2010

Nobody calls them transistors anymore. They’re “electron devices” evolving into new species, using new materials and new combinations of materials, and handling once-undreamed-of tasks and loads. They’re also shrinking, shrinking, shrinking as our knowledge of solid-state technology grows. Helping to expand and spread that knowledge, more than 1500 researchers are prepared to gather at the 56th annual International Electron Devices Meeting. Sponsored by the IEEE Electron Devices Society, IEDM is scheduled to be held in San Francisco from 6 to 8 December, preceded by two optional, daylong short courses on 5 December. More than 200 papers on eight broad topics are expected, as well as a panel session and an emerging-technology session.

“This year, IEDM is much more diverse than ever,” says John Suehle, the meeting’s publicity chair. “We’re covering new research areas such as solid-state biosensors, biomedical lab-on-a-chip, energy-harvesting devices, and organic electronics.” Suehle, a senior member, has been attending the conference since 1983.

Most solid-state devices today are silicon-based, and the plenary session kicking off the conference includes a talk on silicon’s future challenges and opportunities. Papers to be presented at the conference are expected to discuss devices based on gallium nitride (GaN)—alone or in combination with aluminum (AlGaN)—graphene (crystalline carbon sheets only one atom thick), organic semiconductors and multigate fin-shaped field-effect transistors (FinFETs), as well as silicon carbide (SiC) and the use of silicon-germanium (SiGe) “stressor” layers to speed and ease the passage of electrons through a silicon layer at the very top.

New this year, Suehle says, is extensive coverage of innovative technologies for power electronics and their application to the smart grid and energy conversion.

Energy efficiency and power electronics are the subjects of another plenary talk on the meeting’s opening day, followed the next day by a veritable mini symposium on devices that address the growing need for clean, efficient, and ample energy. The second day offers the emerging technologies session and six invited papers on next-generation power devices and technology, including ultrahigh-voltage semiconductor devices for grid applications and advanced SiC and GaN devices for automotive systems. The afternoon is devoted to eight papers on advanced power devices and reliability, and there is an evening panel session called Power Crunch: Threat or Opportunity?

When the first transistors were introduced, they were far smaller than the vacuum tubes they replaced. Stripped of their leads and cases and packed into integrated circuits, they became smaller still. By IEDM’s 10th anniversary in 1965, Intel’s Gordon Moore had observed that “the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit” doubles approximately every two years, a trend that has held for nearly half a century. But Moore’s Law might have a limit. Technology keeps shrinking the devices, but atoms and electrons haven’t changed in size. IEDM 2010, however, brings new developments in compound (non-silicon) semiconductors and new memory technologies that Suehle, a group leader in the semiconductor electronics division at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, predicts will extend Moore’s Law. Papers on the subject will be the most important ones at the meeting, Suehle says.

Among the miniaturization techniques to be discussed are a complete, high-performance CMOS logic platform suitable for 22-nanometer and 20-nm technology; nanoscale FinFETs for fast, low-power logic; and the thinnest indium-gallium-arsenide MOSFET ever made. (Today’s advanced computer chips have minimum feature sizes of 25 nm.)

Papers about memory technology are expected to discuss the smallest and densest embedded dynamic random access memory (DRAM), or eDRAM, array, a manufacturable NAND memory of breathtakingly small cell size, and the world’s smallest resistive memory. Other papers are likely to deal with nanotechnology devices and architectures, micromachined devices, and new connection techniques (some using carbon nanotubes) for compact 3-D chip and wafer stacks.

One of the two short courses explores 15-nm CMOS technology, and an evening panel addresses techniques for integrating heterogeneous devices for reaching “more than Moore.”

Device miniaturization makes possible the downsizing of medical diagnostic and other tools, even making some implantable, as noted by a plenary talk, Bionanoscience for Global Healthcare Technology. Two papers describe progress toward low-cost on-chip laboratories to detect DNA and other biomolecules—another hot topic, Suehle says. Health-care applications also benefit from modern devices’ increased power efficiency, leading to longer battery life from smaller batteries—especially important in implantable devices.

Among other items on the agenda are novel displays and imagers including a germanium-on-silicon CMOS sensor that, thanks to its extended infrared response, improves high-resolution night imaging under moonless conditions. Also covered in various papers are a 1-terahertz indium gallium arsenide transistor with good gain, a new speed record for high-electron-mobility GaN transistors, a newly discovered failure mechanism in phase-change memory, new developments in graphene transistors, and improvements to copolymer lithography for device fabrication. Significant breakthroughs in other areas of device manufacturing are also expected.

Plans also call for a short course on reliability and yield of advanced integrated technologies, as well as an evening panel that many managers are likely to appreciate, called Managing Innovation: An Oxymoron?

And thanks to the kinds of advances IEDM has heralded over the years, the conference proceedings won’t be issued in print. Instead, each attendee is scheduled to receive a solid-state USB drive with the proceedings on it.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More