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Searching for Semiconductors

Transistors are found in nearly all modern electronic devices. From radios to computers, transistors have been credited with revolutionizing electronics, making portable devices possible. Their size, however, is quickly becoming problematic as modern science is approaching the limit of how small transistors can be made while maintaining effectiveness.

Dr. Veerle Keppens seeks to address this with her Joint Directed Research Development (JDRD) project. By funding graduate student Amanda Haglund, Keppens is exploring the use of new materials for making transistors which can be smaller and more efficient than existing transistors.

“I’m working on magnetic materials that you can use to switch a transistor,” said Haglund. “They’re semiconductors and they’re magnetic at the same time. Right now we just use semiconductors for transistors.”

One of the problems cited with semiconductor transistors is energy consumption. When the materials in transistors are shrunk to a certain point they become impossible to switch on and off, essentially leaking current constantly. Keppens’ project is addressing this via liquid ionic gating, which can be used to make insulating materials into conducting materials, creating an effective on-off switch for smaller materials.

Haglund is mining the history books for magnetic semiconducting materials, placed aside for lack of application in decades past. Working backwards from papers and available research, she is attempting to recreate the structure of these materials and test their effectiveness in transistors.

Keppens’ Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) partner, Dr. Thomas Ward, is focusing his work on the ionic liquids utilized in Haglund’s work. In turn, the material Haglund grows presents new areas of opportunity for Ward’s research.

This area of study in materials is just beginning to develop and Keppens expects her research to serve as a catalyst for the studying and creating of ionic liquid field-gated devices. Additionally, she plans to submit proposals to the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences program in Condensed Matter and Materials Physics, as well as the Department of Defense’s Army Research Laboratory program for Emerging Technologies for Semiconductors.

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