New Electronics Breakthrough

Scientists in Canada, Germany and the USA are researching cutting-edges new ways to visualize the inner workings of electronics using the Light Source Synchrotron (CLS) and are hoping to revolutionise the entire electronics industry.

“We have been working on this project for several years, but the results are worth all the effort!” said lead investigator Prof. Vladimir Hinkov, from the Physics Institute and Röntgen Center at the University of Würzburg in Germany.

Light Source Synchrotron
Light Source Synchrotron

99.9% of all electronic devices in existence today use layer up on layer of nanometer-thin semiconducting films but the new so-called transition-metal oxides hold promise for exciting new applications. Where layers of this novel class of electronic materials touch, often a unique and unprecedented phenomenon occurs: for instance, the interface between two insulators can become superconducting, or a strong magnetic order can build up between two non-magnetic layers.

A completely new class of electronic devices could be developed if scientists can understand the characteristics of these phenomena which could possible revolutionise everything from computers, laboratory equipment and even solar panels

The biggest hurdle of explaining the properties of this new material was because existing measurement techniques are either too coarse to reveal details on the atomic level, or because they destroy the film whilst trying to analyse it, impeding their ability to explain what was happening; until now.

Transition Metal Oxides
Transition Metal Oxides

The new technique based on resonant X-ray reflectivity that allows them to view these films at the atomic level: X-rays with a wavelength of a few nanometers are reflected off the different interfaces in the structure and subsequently overlap, pretty much as in holography using visible light. The resulting data then provides a depth-resolved picture of the structure.

This new, non-destructive technique has allowed scientists to finally see the building blocks of these new electronic materials up close for the first time. Visualizing the interfaces in layers of these materials will allow scientists to finally understand what makes them tick and consequently how to use them for greatly improved devices.

“An endeavour of this magnitude is only possible if colleagues with diverse fields of research are involved,” said Prof. Hinkov. “Also, the required light has to be intense and of high quality, which can only be created in a synchrotron such as the Canadian Light Source.”

Prof. Hinkov, who mainly focuses on fundamental physical questions, said that he could clearly see the next steps for their research. “We will investigate structures with interesting magnetic and electronic properties, and in the near future, colleagues who focus on electronics applications can use our results to develop components with tailored physical and technological properties.”

Smart, innovative and highly sensitive technology could become a reality thanks to this innovative research.

Stay Curious – C.Costigan


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