Nano-Transistor From DNA-like Material

Computer chips use billions of tiny switches, called transistors, to process information. The more transistors on a chip, the faster the computer. A material shaped like a one-dimensional DNA helix might further push the limits on a transistor’s size. The material comes from a rare earth element called tellurium.

Researchers found that the material, encapsulated in a nanotube made of boron nitride, helps build a field-effect transistor with a diameter of two nanometers. Transistors on the market are made of bulkier silicon and range between 10 and 20 nanometers in scale.  Engineers at Purdue University performed the work in collaboration with Michigan Technological University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Over the past few years, transistors have been built as small as a few nanometers in lab settings. The goal is to build transistors the size of atomsPeide Ye’s lab at Purdue is one of many research groups seeking to exploit materials much thinner than silicon to achieve both smaller and higher-performing transistors.

These silver, wiggling lines are strings of atoms in tellurium behaving like DNA. Researchers have not seen this behavior in any other material.

This tellurium material is really unique. It builds a functional transistor with the potential to be the smallest in the world,” said Ye, Purdue’s Richard J. and Mary Jo Schwartz Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The research is published in the journal Nature Electronics.


Long-lasting Lithium Batteries

The grand challenge to improve energy storage and increase battery life, while ensuring safe operation, is becoming evermore critical as we become increasingly reliant on this energy source for everything from portable devices to electric vehicles. A Columbia Engineering team led by Yuan Yang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, announced today that they have developed a new method for safely prolonging battery life by inserting a nano-coating of boron nitride (BN) to stabilize solid electrolytes in lithium metal batteries.

While conventional lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries are currently widely used in daily life, they have low energy density, resulting in shorter battery life, and, because of the highly flammable liquid electrolyte inside them, they can short out and even catch fire. Energy density could be improved by using lithium metal to replace the graphite anode used in Li-ion batteries: lithium metal’s theoretical capacity for the amount of charge it can deliver is almost 10 times higher than that of graphite. But during lithium plating, dendrites often form and, if they penetrate the membrane separator in the middle of the battery, they can create short-circuits, raising concerns about battery safety.

We decided to focus on solid, ceramic electrolytes. They show great promise in improving both safety and energy density, as compared with conventional, flammable electrolytes in Li-ion batteries,” says Yang. “We are particularly interested in rechargeable solid-state lithium batteries because they are promising candidates for next-generation energy storage.” “Lithium metal is indispensable for enhancing energy density and so it’s critical that we be able to use it as the anode for solid electrolytes,” says Qian Cheng, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral research scientist in the department of applied physics and applied mathematics who works in Yang’s group. “To adapt these unstable solid electrolytes for real-life applications, we needed to develop a chemically and mechanically stable interface to protect these solid electrolytes against the lithium anode. It is essential that the interface not only be highly electronically insulating, but also ionically conducting in order to transport lithium ions. Plus, this interface has to be super-thin to avoid lowering the energy density of batteries.”

Th findings are outlined in a new study published by Joule.