Pure crystal promises hardy chips

September 8/15, 2004

Silicon carbide is hardier than than the plain silicon most computer chips are made from, and so theoretically could be a useful material for computer chips that must withstand extreme environments and high-power applications.

Scientists have had a difficult time producing large crystals of silicon carbide that are free from chip-killing defects, however.

Researchers from Toyota Central Research and Development Labs and Denso Corporation's Research Laboratories in Japan have found a way around the problem.

The researchers have produced low-defect silicon carbide chips by growing the crystals in stages. The researchers were able to drastically reduce defects by, at each stage, allowing the crystal to grow only perpendicular to its last growth stage. The method reduces defects by two to three orders of magnitude, according to the researchers.

The chips could eventually be used in electronics that need to work in extreme environments like hot engines and the radiation of outer space. The material is also appropriate for high-voltage applications like electric transmission equipment, according to the researchers.

The researchers are working on ways to grow silicon carbide crystals are larger and have even fewer defects.

Silicon carbide chips could be used practically in as soon as six years, according to the researchers. The work appeared in the August 26, 2004 issue of Nature.

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