Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"MATERIALS: Ferroelectric gates make transistors nonvolatile"

Electronics devices using ferroelectric transistors would turn on instantly without the need to boot from flash or hard-disk memories. Such ferroelectric transistors would likely use a gate oxide with memory to create nonvolatile circuitry that retains its state when power is turned off. Many research efforts have pursued ferroelectric transistors, but so far all have failed for lack of a suitable manufacturing process. A solution may be near: strained strontium titanate deposited on standard silicon substrates, according to a team of industry, university and government researchers. Engineers from Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Penn State University, Northwestern University, Motorola Corp., Ames Laboratory and Intel Corp. participated in the ferroelectric research.

BOTTOM LINE: Instant-on electronics would revolutionize every type of electronic device by enabling each individual transistor to remember its state when it was turned off, obviating the need to reboot each time a device is turned on. Texas Instruments, Sharp Laboratories, Infineon and others have patented different ferroelectric transistors to realize instant-on operation, but so far none have been commercialized. If this breakthrough using strained strontium titanate as a gate dielectric for standard CMOS chips works as advertised, then the era of instant-on electronics could be realized within five years.