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Perspective on Semiconductors

Semiconductor materials make possible many of today’s technological advances, from handheld electronics to solar cells and even electric vehicles. Specifically, wide bandgap semiconductors have opened new opportunities in ultra-high power electronics applications for utility grid management, military radar systems, and smart grid technologies. In order for these emerging technologies to be successful, researchers are looking to develop materials that are stronger, faster, and more efficient than ever before.

“New materials are the cornerstone of innovation in technology since they allow improved performance and lead to new applications and markets,” says Stephen Pearton, ECS fellow and professor at the University of Florida. “The semiconductor industry has a long history of such innovation and Gallium Oxide (Ga2O3) is a promising new material to continue this trend.”

Pearton recently co-authored an open access Perspective article published in the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology, “Opportunities and Future Directions for Ga2O3,” discussing the potential for Gallium Oxide to surpass conventional semiconductor materials, emphasizing its capability to handle extremely high power applications. ECS’s Perspective articles provide a platform for author’s to offer insight into emerging or established fields.

Currently, Silicon Carbide and Gallium Nitride are the two most common materials used to develop commercial semiconductors. Both materials display promising properties, such as high dielectric strength, high operating temperature, high current density, high speed switching, and low on-resistance. While semiconductors developed from these materials are sufficient for most current electronic and energy applications, emerging technology may demand materials with even higher voltage-handling capabilities.

“As new sources of energy are explored – wind, tides, bio-fuels – the need increasingly arises for ever more efficient controlling systems to link the power into our power grids for distribution to the user,” Pearton says. “Wide bandgap semiconductors, with their higher power and temperature capabilities, and hence efficiency, creates the next generation of power control systems that will make these new sources viable.”

For Pearton and his co-authors, Gallium Oxide shows the most potential to enable the semiconductors that could make those future systems successful. But first, researchers must work to overcome some of the material’s challenges.

“There are still major challenges ahead, such as trying to overcome the relatively low thermal conductivity of Ga2O3,” Pearton says, “which makes it difficult to remove heat from the devices as they operate at high powers, increase the size of available wafers of this material, and lower the cost.”

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