Researchers use new methods to make electronics faster and smaller

Katelyn Faulks

A recent study, published by an international group of researchers, showed a patterning technique on metals could improve electronics by making them faster, smaller and more energy efficient, according to a Univeristy of Minnesota news release.  University of Minnesota researchers, while collaborating with Seoul National University and Argonne National Laboratory, discovered that they could create tiny gaps and concentrate light through them to make massive amounts of energy.

Some of the practical applications of this technique could lead to improved airport scanning systems, explosive detection and medical diagnostics. Faster data processing may also make electronic chips faster and, since less energy is consumed, lengthen battery lives. 

The two discoveries allow for increased signal detection and improved electronic processing. "We can merge optics and electronics," Sang-Hyun Oh, lead researcher and professor of electrical and computer engineering, said, "we can process signals and data much faster using much less energy." 

 Xiaoshu Chen, a PhD student at the University and lead author of the study, figured out how to construct the gaps, which were 1 nanometer in width and, according to Oh, "thinner than any existing tool can make."

The patterned metal was coated with an atomic material. Then another layer of metal was added to fill in the pattern. Excess metal was removed with scotch tape, which made the gaps visible. "We found that the adhesion of the metal to the coating layer was very poor," Chen said, "so we could easily remove it with scotch tape and we didn’t need any other more expensive techniques. It’s cheaper." 

Former PhD student at Seoul National University, Hyeong-Ryeoul Park, discovered that long light waves, called terahertz, could be pushed through the gaps to create an intense amount of energy. With the light wave passing through, the energy inside the gap was 600 million times stronger than the energy outside of the gap which Oh said is "a world record – no one has shown it before." 

Park is now completing his post doctorate at the University of Minnesota and continues to explore the applications of this light wave while Chen continues to make similar nano gap structures. 

"We want to push the limit of this technique," said Oh, " in principal we can make gaps that are only a few atoms wide, we want to see if she can do it.”