Herb Goronkin, Paul von Allmen, Raymond K. Tsui, and Theodore X. Zhu



The recent emergence of fabrication tools and techniques capable of constructing structures with dimensions ranging from 0.1 to 50 nm (see Fig. 5.1) has opened up numerous possibilities for investigating new devices in a size domain heretofore inaccessible to experimental researchers. The WTEC nanotechnology panel reviewed research in the United States, Japan, Taiwan, and Europe to find that there is considerable nanoscience and technology activity in university, industrial, and government laboratories around the world. The insight gained from this survey suggests areas of strength and areas of possible improvement in the field.

There is intense study around the world to determine the exact point in dimensional scaling where it becomes either physically unfeasible or financially impractical to continue the trend towards reducing the size while increasing the complexity of silicon chips. In some of the same laboratories where research activities on Si are decreasing, research activities on single-electron devices (SEDs) are increasing. Although there are myriad questions involving electrical contacts, interconnections, reliability, and the like, one of the fundamental issues in the miniaturization/complexity debate concerns the Si MOSFET itself when the gate length is reduced to less than 50 nm. Does it behave like a long gate device or does the output conductance increase to impractical levels due to short-channel effects? Based on the WTEC panel's survey, most of the activities examining these questions are taking place in Japanese industrial laboratories.

Figure 5.1.
Functional device scales.

While the signature current-voltage (I-V) characteristics provide a common basis for comparison of device performance, there are significant variations in the fabrication methods and device structures being considered by the different labs in the countries the panel surveyed that have significant SED activity. The range of research in the surveyed laboratories spans electrical measurements from millikelvin to room temperature and from discrete electronic elements to integrated single-electron transistors (SETs). Materials that are used to form the active single-electron element range from charge clusters that are shaped by electric fields in a two-dimensional electron gas to metallic colloids to single oligomers. Progress in the field is hindered by architectures based on conventional circuit approaches that fail to take sufficient advantage of the unique properties of single-charge electronics to achieve significant impact in future high density applications. Most research in SED technology is fundamental and is distributed among universities funded by government agencies. A smaller body of application-directed research exists in industrial laboratories; these are mostly in Japan.

The field of magnetics has experienced increasing attention since giant magnetoresistance (GMR) in multilayered structures was discovered in 1988. In these structures ferromagnetic layers are quantum mechanically coupled across a 1-3 nm nonmagnetic metallic layer. GMR structures are under intense study for applications in hard disk heads, random access memory (RAM), and sensors. Several laboratories are investigating the physics of the transition of these layers, which are quantum mechanically confined in one dimension, to layered filaments in which there are one- and two-dimensional confinements. There are numerous experimental process approaches under consideration in fabricating GMR structures, including the following:

In RAM applications, a high ratio of magnetoresistance combined with a small coercive switching field is key to density, speed, and low power. These features are also achieved in magnetic tunnel junctions in which the ferromagnetic layers are quantum mechanically coupled through a thin dielectric layer. Although research in nanoscale magnetics is underway internationally, most of the activities on the practical applications mentioned above are in the United States.

Optical devices have already benefited from incorporation of nanostructured materials: commercially available semiconductor lasers incorporate active regions comprised of quantum wells, the presence of which modifies the electronic density of states and the localization of electrons and holes, resulting in more efficient laser operation. Extrapolating from those results, even greater improvements are predicted for lasers utilizing either quantum wire or quantum dot active layers. Recent advances in the "self-assembled" formation of quantum dot structures have stimulated progress in the fabrication and characterization of quantum dot lasers in Japan, Europe, and the United States.

In late 1991, the first synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes were reported. The novel material contained a wide variety of multiwalled nanotubes (MWNT) containing 2 to 50 concentric cylindrical graphene sheets with a diameter of a few nm and a length of up to 1 Ám. The material was produced at the negative electrode of an arc discharge and appeared to be mixed with a large amount of other forms of carbon. This initial work led many groups throughout the world to produce and purify nanotubes. The theoretical study of their electronic structure followed in the next year. Soon it became clear that nanotubes have unique electronic and mechanical properties that are expected to lead to ground-breaking industrial applications. Some of the progress made in this respect over recent years is summarized later in this chapter.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian