Research Team Develops High-Power Device that Helps Create Nanoplasma

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 14, 2020 — Researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a nanodevice that operates more than 10 times faster than today’s fastest transistors, and about 100 times faster than personal computers.

The team at the Power and Wide-band-gap Electronics Research Laboratory (POWERlab), led by Elison Matioli, built a nanodevice that enables the generation of extremely high-power signals in just a few picoseconds, producing high-power THz waves. The EPFL researchers say they are hoping to mitigate the costs and materials demand of traditional THz waves.

The researchers say the high-power picosecond operation of these devices may help with some advanced medical treatment techniques such as cancer therapy. The team’s pioneering compact source, described in the journal Nature, paves the way for untold new applications.

The researchers say their technology, which can be mounted on a chip or a flexible medium, could one day be installed in smartphones and other hand-held devices.

The compact, inexpensive, fully electric nanodevice works by producing a spark with the voltage spiking from 10 V to 100 V in the range of a picosecond. The device is capable of generating this spark almost continuously and emitting up to 50 million signals every second. When hooked up to antennas, the system can produce and radiate high-power THz waves.

The device consists of two metal plates situated as close as 20 nm apart. When a voltage is applied, electrons surge toward one of the plates, where they form a nanoplasma. Once the voltage reaches a certain threshold, the electrons are emitted to the second plate. This rapid movement enabled by such fast switches creates a high-intensity pulse that produces the high-frequency waves.

“Normally, it’s impossible to achieve high values for both variables,” Matioli said. “High-frequency semiconductor devices are nanoscale in size. They can only cope with a few volts before breaking out. High-power devices, meanwhile, are too big and slow to generate terahertz waves. Our solution was to revisit the old field of plasma with state-of-the-art nanoscale fabrication techniques to propose a new device to get around those constraints.”

The efficiency of the nanodevice means it can be easily added to other transistor devices.

“These nanodevices, on one side, bring an extremely high level of simplicity and low cost, and on the other side, show an excellent performance,” said Mohammad Samizadeh Nikoo, a co-author of the research paper in Nature. “In addition, they can be integrated with other electronic devices such as transistors. Considering these unique properties, nanoplasma can shape a different future for the area of ultrafast electronics.”

Matioli said he believes more innovative applications are to come.

Published: April 2020
Research & TechnologyEuropenanodevicetransistorspicosecondsnanoplasma formationelectronsmedical devicesBiophotonicsEuro News

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