Last Updated on October 22, 2023 by Kevin Chen
Image source Freepik
A transistor is the most fundamental component of any chip or microchip. Even when not embedded in a chip, it still plays an important role in an electric circuit.
Transistors have come a long way to what we have today. Even though the functions may remain the same. Some key features and technologies have evolved over the years.
Technically, the work of a transistor is to conduct maximum current when it is turned on (amplification), prevent the flow of current when it is turned off and to allow rapid switching.
These key functions make transistors relevant in a wide range of applications.
It is also critical to appreciate the research and development that has been done on the transistors over the years.
Their size, design and performance has been evolving ever since the first transistor was developed.
An array of alternative materials have been used to explore the possibilities of getting the best out of the transistors.
The evolution of transistors has had a direct impact on other electronic products and appliances.
What does the future of transistors look like?
Keep reading as we discuss in details the future of transistor technology and the overall impact that it will have.
Background and overview of transistors
Image source AllAboutCircuits
Transistors are ranked among the most influential and innovative technologies of the 20th century in the electronic landscape.
There are solid reasons why transistor seem to take this ranking. The most important one is they have paved way for development of digital devices which are currently running the world.
The rich history of transistors is traced back to the 1948 at the Bell Laboratories Program. Here, a transistor prototype was developed to replace the vacuum tube which was mainly used as a switch and controlling electric current in a circuit.
Initially, vacuum tubes were used to do everything that modern transistors do. They amplified signals, rectified current and were as well used as switches. However, they were quite problematic as they generated significant amount of heat in the course of their operation. They also tend to overheat.
Transistors seemed to be perfect alternatives to these problems. This is despite that fact that the original models of transistors also seemed to have a myriad of problems and temperature sensitivity was among them. Nevertheless, they still dominated the vacuum tubes to become go-to solutions for most electric circuits. Of course this was after the initial heating and temperature sensitivity problems were deal with.
The original transistor models mainly comprised of germanium material which was connected to two wires. It was then replaced by silicon which comprised of three terminals. Silicon gained popularity mainly because of its tolerance to high temperature.
One notable feature about the evolution of transistors is size. There has been a significant decline of transistor size over the years. Smaller size means that the distance between the source and the drain gradually became smaller. This in turn means that the switching speed was faster in smaller transistors.
How big are transistors today
Image of small transistors source Science News
The most trending topic about transistors has always been their size. From the brief history, it is clear that the size of transistor has been getting smaller. This is still expected to define the future of transistors.
Before we even focus on transistor size, imagine how today’s chips are very small. Now the same chips are required to host transistors. A single chip has the capacity to host billions of transistors.
The extreme small size of transistors makes it possible for them to be hosted on small chips. Even if we don’t see them, they are physically there and are always executing the required roles.
So, what is the future of transistors in relation to the size factor?
First, we expect a reduction in the cost of manufacturing chips.This is mainly based on the fact that the small sizes makes it easy to assemble the chips. Reducing the size also means that the size of the wafers will be small hence lower cost.
Smaller transistor size also translates to more functionalities of the chips. In case you are designing a chip and would like to add new features, all you need to is get extra transistors. The fact that they are small means that space on the wafer wont be an issue.
The smaller size of transistors has paved way for miniaturized electronic devices. This trend is expected to remain for several years.
What about the impact of transistors on the energy consumption? Well, this is also expected to be defined by the future of transistors. Being small means that they tend to have a lower energy consumption rate. This implies that the future of transistor tends to drift towards sustainability.
Moore’s law on electronics
To get a better understanding on the future of transistors, it will be prudent to go back to the Moore’s law regarding the number of transistors in integrated circuit. The law states that the number of transistors in ICs will double in every two years. The law was derived from the observation of the transistor trends in the field of electronics.
Did Moore’s prophecy come to pass? Technically yes. There has been a steady increase of the number of transistors in the integrated circuits. To add on that, manufacturers in the electronics industry have been developing their products which in most cases have been in line with Moore’s law.
The steady increase in the number of transistors on the integrated circuits has been made possible by the innovation and development of the transistors. As we have already discussed, transistors have been becoming smaller and smaller. This makes it possible to up their numbers without having to increase the size of microchips.
Wide band Gap to define the future of transistors
Another key factor that is expected to define the future of transistors is the wide band gap (WBG). This refers to a specific property of the semiconductor materials that are used for making different components, including transistors.
The demand for the wider bandgap has made manufacturers to consider some materials over others. These materials include silicon carbide and gallium nitride.
Wide bandgap will ultimately translate to a larger bandgap energy of a material. This means that it will require extremely high voltage to trigger the electron flow of the material.
How will a wide bandgap define the future of transistor?
First, we will have transistors that have higher temperature resistance. They will be less sensitive to temperature changes and this will be a major boost to the versatility of the transistors. They will be used anywhere regardless of the temperature conditions.
The wide bandgap will also allow transistors to be used for high-voltage applications. The fact that the materials have high band energy means that movement of electrons in can only be effected by high supply voltage. This eventually means that we will have more transistors that will be suitable for the high-voltage applications.
The use of materials with wide bandgap on transistors also means that the switching speeds for most transistors will be faster. This is a critical feature for most futuristic devices.
These materials are also good good at saving energy. So you can be sure of having transistors that will be oriented towards sustainability.
This is another critical feature that is aimed at defining the future of transistors. This is expected to replace the traditional planar design that has used ever since the invention of the transistors.
In the 3D design the source and the drain of the transistor are used as fins of the gate. This allows them to control the channel from three sides. In the planar design only one side was used for controlling the channel.
The need for the 3D transistor has been necessitated by the flaws that we are witnessing on the planar design.
As the size of the transistor has been decreasing a major challenge experienced by transistor designers has been how to minimize the leakage of current. This is where the relevance of 3D transistor engineering comes in.
With the three dimensional transistor architecture, it is easy to control the flow of current hence minimizing any possibilities of leakage. This design also provides an efficient heat management system and improves the overall performance of the transistor.
We are already witnessing companies making serious moves towards the development of 3D transistors. For example, Intel is hoping to utilize 3D transistor architecture to retake its fame as a major chip manufacturer.
Some of the 3D transistors that are already causing serious ripples in the electronics field include FinFET, Tunnel FET, Gate-All-Around FET, and Nanosheet FET.
In the near future, we expect to see the market being dominated by quantum field-effect transistors. As the name suggests, these transistors are built based on the quantum engineering.
Quantum transistors are packed with special features such as quantum wells and defined electron tunnels.
It is expected that these transistors will have a faster switching speed than ordinary transistors.
From the guide, the future of transistors will be marked by change of the primary materials used. We also expect to see some changes on the design and structure of the transistors
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