Silicon has been the electronic standard for nearly half a century. Even IBM's latest revelation, its 7nm chip (the fastest and smallest in the world to date), still relies on silicon, though the 7nm chip is made of silicon germanium--an alloy of silicon and germanium. Silicon has been assumed to be the standard for the foreseeable future due to its durability and low cost.
However, that's about to change: scientists at the Technische Universität München have created a semiconducting material that replaces individual phosphorus atoms with arsenic, and American collaborators just managed to build field-effect transistors from this new material.
Electronmicroscopic image of black arsenic phosphorus crystal- courtesy Marianne Köpf
Unlike silicon, which is ever closer to reaching the limits of Moore's law, black arsenic phosphorus is formed of extremely thin layers that allow it to bend, unleashing new dimensions of feasibility.
This is particularly interesting becauase graphene, whose carbon network is only one atom thick, was granted the Nobel Prize in 2010 for being the strongest material known to man, as electrically conductive as copper, nearly transparent, uncannily dense, and more heat conductive than anything else on earth. For a while it was thought that graphene would be silicon's rival.
But black arsenic phosphorus is thin, conductive, flexible, and much cheaper and energy-efficient than graphene, since the Technical University of Munich has developed technology that allows black arsenic phosphorus to be synthesized without high pressure.
"This allows us to produce materials with previously unattainable electronic and optical properties in an energy window that was hitherto inaccessible," says Professor Tom Nilges, head of the research group for Synthesis and Characterization of Innovative Materials.
The new material is perfect for detecting long wavelength infrared radiation, but also may be the answer in the race to find silicon's replacement. Our future may well include clothing embedded with black arsenic phosphorus sensors that bend with the body. In fact, this new material may foretell the death of a wearables revolution that hasn't even seen its zenith. One thing is sure: silicon's days are numbered.