The University of Bath is to lead an international £555,000 three-year project to develop a system which could cut out the need for wiring to carry electric currents in silicon chips.
Computers double in power every 18 months or so as scientists and engineers develop ways to make silicon chips smaller. But in the next few years they will hit a limit imposed by the need to use electric wiring, which weakens signals sent between computer components at high speed.
The new research project could produce a way of carrying electric signal without the need for wiring. Wi fi internet systems and mobile phones use wireless technology now, but the electronics that create and use wireless signals are too large to be used within individual microchips successfully.
The process, called inverse electron spin resonance, uses the magnetic field to deflect electrons and to modify their magnetic direction. This creates oscillations of the electrons which makes them produce microwave energy. This can then be used to broadcast electric signals in free space without the weakening caused by wires.
The possibility of using the special semi-conductors in this way was first pointed out by Dr Alain Nogaret, of the University of Bath’s Department of Physics, in an important scientific paper in 2005 (Electrically Induced Raman Emission from Planar Spin Oscillator, in Physical Review Letters). The latest research is the first attempt to turn theory into practice.
“The work could be very important for the creation of faster, more powerful computers,” said Dr Nogaret.
“But if this research is successful, it could make computers with wireless semi-conductors a possibility within five or ten years of the end of the project. Then computers could be made anything from 200 to 500 times quicker and still be the same size.
The project is the only one which aims to create wireless emitters and receivers that fit on semi-conductor wafers, where individual devices are one ten thousandth of a millimetre in size.
It will also allow the creation of integrated circuits which will still continue to work properly even if some of its connections fail – the system can be programmed to reroute itself so that it can continue working. At present a failure in a connecting wire can put an integrated circuit out of action.