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Iron stepping stones to better wearable tech without semiconductors

Research led by Yoke Khin Yap, a professor of physics at Michigan Technological University, states that the road to more versatile wearable technology is dotted with iron. Specifically, quantum dots of iron arranged on boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs).

Prof Yap says the iron-studded BNNTs are pushing the boundaries of electronics hardware. "Look beyond semiconductors," he said, explaining that materials like silicon semiconductors tend to overheat, can only get so small and leak electric current.

The key to revamping the fundamental base of transistors, Prof Yap explained, is creating a series of stepping-stones that use quantum tunnelling.

The insulating effect of BNNTs is crucial to prevent current leakage and overheating. Additionally, electron flow will only occur across the metal dots on the BNNTs.

In past research, Prof Yap and his team used gold for quantum dots placed along a BNNT in a uniform line. With enough energy potential, the electrons are repelled by the insulating BNNT and hopscotch from gold dot to gold dot - quantum tunnelling.

"Imagine this as a river, and there's no bridge; it's too big to hop over," Yap says. "Now, picture having stepping stones across the river - you can cross over, but only when you have enough energy to do so."

Unlike with semiconductors, there is no classical resistance with quantum tunnelling. Plus, these materials are very small; the nanomaterials enable the transistors to shrink as well. An added advantage is that BNNTs are also flexible, which could benefit the design of wearable electronics.

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

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