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  • Electronics keep getting smaller, and it's all thanks to electric switches called transistors.

  • When these little fellas replaced vacuum tubes, computers went from the size of entire rooms

  • to merely the corner of a room.

  • In the 60-odd years since, transistors have kept shrinking, scaling down and powering

  • up our electronics with them.

  • But many think we are hitting a choke pointwhat if we can't make anything smaller?!

  • Transistors have 3 terminals, a source, a drain, and a gate.

  • Current flows from the source and, if the gate allows the electrons to pass, out the

  • drain.

  • You know how computer code is ones and zeros at its most fundamental level?

  • Well, this is where that physically happens.

  • Current flowing through an open gate represents a one, a closed gate and no current represents

  • a zero.

  • Pack thousands of these transistors together and they can do calculations and act as a

  • computer's brain.

  • Early computers had thousands of transistors, but one way to build a better brain is to

  • squeeze more transistors onto a chip, and today's chips could have billions.

  • That means scaling all the parts of a transistor down.

  • Not only do smaller transistors allow for a higher density, but it also means they can

  • switch from on to off faster, so small is good!

  • Right now, commercially available chips typically have transistors with gates about 14 to 20

  • nm across, depending on the chip.

  • The problem is, as gates get thinner, quantum mechanics (the physics that govern tiny parts

  • of atoms) start to come into play.

  • For example, if the gates are too thin then they won't be able to stop electrons because

  • the electrons will tunnel through.

  • Not in a literal sense, they don't bore through the gate like an escaped convict.

  • They tunnel in the quirky quantum sense, where essentially electrons disappear on one side

  • of the gate and reappear on the other.

  • Eat your heart out, Andy Dufresne.

  • If the gate is supposed to be closed to current - meaning a zero - and it ain't, that's

  • a big problem.

  • Researchers predict that the lower limit for silicon gate is 5 nm, and by 2021 it won't

  • be economically efficient to keep shrinking transistors.

  • So, where do we go when the laws of physics stop the march of technological progress?

  • Well, the good news is, there are other ways of improving performance.

  • Machine learning could help develop more efficient algorithms to use with current transistors.

  • Or, we could switch to light based computers with optical gates.

  • That, could actually boost performance 20 fold, though the hardware is a bit larger.

  • Or, we could stop using silicon.

  • Researchers have managed to make a transistor out of molybdenum disulfide with a carbon

  • nanotube gate thats just one nanometer across.

  • It gets around electron tunneling because electrons don't flow as fast through the

  • molybdenum disulfide as they do through silicon.

  • But, mass production would probably be expensive, it was hard enough to make the proof of concept.

  • The point is, progress can happen even if we can't shrink.

  • Keep in mind when transistors were first used in a computer they were 20 times more expensive

  • than vacuum tubes.

  • Even though transistors were much costlier, computer scientists knew they had more of

  • an upside in the long run, and look where that led us!

  • ...Watching cat videos on your phone while you avoid eye contact on your commute to work.

  • Thanks nerds!

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  • For more about the problems with ever shrinking computers, watch this video on the end of

  • Moore's law and the whole new chip design they're proposing.

  • Fun Fact: The first point-contact transistor was invented in 1947, and it was made from

  • strips of gold foil, a plastic triangle, then pushed down on a germanium crystal.

  • Boy have we come a long way.

  • Thanks for watching

Electronics keep getting smaller, and it's all thanks to electric switches called transistors.

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This Is the End of the Silicon Chip, Here’s What’s Next

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    joey joey posted on 2021/04/13
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