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Cape Town - A Cape Town technology company has rocked the international technology world, unveiling the first new type of transistor in 65 years.
Dubbed the “current switching transistor” by its inventors, PST Sensors, the new transistor was launched earlier this month at the IDTechEx 2013 Printed Electronics Europe Conference and Exhibition in Germany.
PST Sensor chief technology officer Professor David Britton, professor in UCT’s NanoSciences Innovation Centre, described the transistor as a major breakthrough.
Electronics, such as computers, often need millions of transistors – semiconductor devices used to amplify and switch electronic signals needed to perform calculations for the function of electronics.
Margit Härting, PST Sensors chief strategy officer and director for research and development in the NanoSciences Innovation Centre, explained that the new switch transistor did the work of several transistors, freeing up space and potentially increasing the output of the device, and improving power management.
“Besides the potential to simplify logic circuits, the new transistor has direct applications in switching pixels in displays, especially the new generation of large area printed displays.”
They’ve seen overseas interest from customers keen on using the transistor for power management to produce more energy-efficient products.
The innovation has also been hailed for its potential to open up a new field on the use of transistors.
The professors said the new transistor was created accidentally in 2008 during research on printed silicon technology in the NanoSciences Innovation Centre, funded by the Technology Innovation Agency.
Printed technology speeds up manufacture of semiconductors.
Britton said they thought they’d developed a simple process to print a regular transistor – “until we tested it and found its unique properties”.
However, they could not replicate it immediately, and spent the next five years studying it. They were then able to both replicate the transistor and understand the mechanisms behind it.
Because the development involves both UCT and PST Sensors, the original material used in the demonstration devices is printed in silicon. The same results can, however, be achieved when using conventional semiconductor fabrication, and even single nanoparticles and nanotubes.
Britton described the reaction at the European exhibition as “gobsmacked”.
“You could have heard a pin drop. I believe the audience was in shock and disbelief because of the implications to transistor technology, the simplicity of it, and why it had never been done before,” he said.
Raghu Das, chief executive of the printed electronics market research company and sponsor of the European exhibition, applauded the new transistor. “The fabrication of a completely new electronic component is a remarkable development in the evolution of semiconductor components.”
Britton said the transistor was under review for publication by a major physics journal.
“For now, we are looking at other researchers to help further the transistor, and other companies to expand the applications. Overall, though, this has been a massive breakthrough for us and the technology industry.” - Weekend Argus