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Srabanti Chowdhury: New forms of semiconductors are key to the future

An electrical engineer discusses how new materials for semiconductors could lead to smaller, faster, more powerful, more energy efficient, and more versatile electronics.

Futuristic 3-D rendering of a computer chip

How do we move past silicon? | Stocksy/Javier Pardina

Electronics are everywhere these days, so much so that often we don't even register that we are using them.

The use of electronics will only grow over time as engineers solve societal challenges through increased connectivity, faster computation, new high-tech gadgets, and energy sustainability. Against that backdrop, electrical engineers like Stanford’s Srabanti Chowdhury have been searching for new semiconductors that can expand the application space beyond the ubiquitous silicon. Among the options she’s exploring is an old familiar friend – diamond – and a few new ones, too, like gallium nitride.

The diamonds Chowdhury works with are a far cry from the sparkly gems a jeweler might prize. These diamonds are “doped” with other elements to achieve optimal electrical performance. Meanwhile, gallium nitride has shown promise in LEDs and lasers, as well as in cutting-edge radar systems – among other applications.

While these new semiconductors have raised hopes of scaling new heights where even silicon cannot reach, much work remains if they are ever to move from lab bench to laptops and myriad other electronic devices. The payoff, however, will be smaller, faster, more powerful, more energy efficient, and more versatile electronics, as Chowdhury tells listeners to this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everythingpodcast with host and Stanford bioengineering Professor Russ Altman. Listen and subscribe here.