New Quantum Chip Will make Devices 10x more Efficient

QuantomThere has been a lot said about how quantum technology will affect our society. From medicine that is far more advanced and specific, to solar cells that make use of 80% of solar energy striking the surface of solar panels, quantum technology will revolutionize nearly every industry in the world. One of the latest advancements comes out of UT Arlington’s College of Engineering, where researchers have figured out a way to use on-chip quantum electron cooling that will lead to devices and computers that are as much as 10x more efficient.

The chip passes the electrons through a quantum well, which cools the electrons down to -228 Celcius, while the chip itself remains at room temperature. Heat is one of the major problems in creating high powered computers that are also ultra efficient. Their design is one of the biggest advancements in computer efficiency in years and the researchers will now begin testing different elements in the arrangements in an attempt to bring the electrons ever closer to the fabled absolute zero.

The Best Transistors Ever Made

quantom_chipBy using Single Electron Transistors, which are highly efficient but usually require cooling using liquid nitrogen or liquid helium, the team is working on some of the most advanced circuits in the world. It is not likely that we will see these chips in phones this year or next, but the technology should become a commercial success sometime in the near future.

But do not just take it from me, the program director in the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Engineering (who funded the research,) Usha Varshney, remarked that the technology has widespread consequences. From the military, to consumer products, Usha thinks the technology will rapidly change the way the world uses energy.

“When implemented in transistors, these research findings could potentially reduce energy consumption of electronic devices by more than 10 times compared to the present technology,” Varshney said. “Personal electronic devices such as smart phones, iPads, etc., can last much longer before recharging.”

This is good news to phone designers, as many people complain about how often they have to charge their devices. On the flip side, manufacturers can also use smaller batteries to produce the same results. This leaves more room for internal hardware and will likely be attractive to all high end manufacturers. Who is going to get this technology first remains to be seen, but my bet is Google.

Batteries Last and Live Longer

quantum_deviceAnother consequence of this discovery is that batteries will have long lifetime, because they will be charged less often. Likely this means that the batteries will outlive the devices to which they belong, creating a whole new market of recycled batteries. This adds to the environmental benefits this technology offers. Not only will less energy be used, but fewer resources will be pumped into creating batteries that have short lifespans.

The design of the transistor takes advantage of a nanoscale structure consisting of a source electrode, a quantum well, a tunneling barrier, a quantum dot, another tunneling barrier, and a drain electrode. This arrangement does not allow more excited electrons to pass through the gap, and selectively allows lower energy electrons through the transistors band gap. It is a pretty confusing design, so do not feel bad if none of that makes sense, just know that it works.

Whether or not this will make devices smaller overall remains to be seen. It is certainly a more complicated design that uses more material, so common sense tells me that the processors using this technology would take up more space to get the same power, but this is a matter of nanometers. More likely devices will be able to be more powerful, as a battery that is half the size will be able to power more on the device. Apple might be able to fit a GPU into an iPhone and still make it thinner.

Passive Cooling in Quantum Wells

The design completely negates the need for cooling systems in a lot of devices, including heat sinks and fans. This allows companies to put more powerful processors and electronics in smaller devices, as they will not have to worry about cooling the transistors manually. This also makes devices quieter, which is something that my desktop could desperately use.

The system passively only allows electrons of a certain energy level, and therefor temperature, pass through the gate. It is an elegant design that relies on the passive qualities of physics. Quantum wells are an area of much research because of their potential to revolutionize many systems. Just about every technology in the world can benefit from nanotechnology.

It will be a couple years before this technology is ready to be taken to market, and it will be interesting to see if the researchers decide to go the route of a startup or to let one of the major manufacturers make the technology ubiquitous. Either way it is likely that just about every mobile device manufacturer will want to have this technology in their devices. Of course it follows that eventually even the cheapest devices will use this technology.

Reduced Energy Means Green Chips

In a world that is so focused on reducing energy usage, because of the real world effects both fiscal and natural of inefficiently using energy, this technology seems to be one of the most promising. There is a statistic that says that the American Video Game habit uses about as much energy as the city of Las Angeles Every year, which if reduced by 10 fold would significantly reduce carbon output.

As usual I will bring more information on this technology as it unfolds. Nanotechnology is one of the fastest expanding areas of research in the world, so there will likely be many similar stories. Screens will take advantage of nanotechnology to create the highest resolution screens yet seen and digital cameras will do the same to create equally high resolution photographs.