Back to the future with germanium

1 min read

Silicon has been the electronics industry’s preferred material for decades. Even with the end of scaling looming large, foundries and other device manufacturers are still looking at silicon for future processes. And with good reason; the industry is silicon based and a move to any other material would essentially require a complete renewal of the manufacturing infrastructure.

Yet it could have been different. Go back to the industry’s early days and another element was the material of choice – germanium. In the late 1950s, Texas Instruments was working with germanium and, perhaps with the greatest significance, William Schockley’s rigid adherence to germanium saw the ‘traitorous eight’ split from Schockley Semiconductor. Amongst those eight were Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore, who then founded Fairchild Semiconductor and, after that, Intel.

Now a team from the Technical University of Dresden has found that, because of its band gap is smaller than that of silicon, germanium can be operated at lower supply voltages and with reduced dynamic power consumption. Not only that, the germanium based transistors can also be reconfigured to operate as N or P type devices. While there is a problem with higher static power consumption, the researchers think they can solve that.

It just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.