EPFL researchers create a nanodevice 100 times faster than current transistors

EPFL researchers have developed a device that operates ten times faster than today's fastest transistors. The new device also operates about 100 times faster than transistors that are in current computers. The nanoscale device they have created enables the generation of high-power terahertz waves. The scientist says that those waves are notoriously difficult to produce. Being very difficult to produce, the waves hold promise for a range of applications, including imaging or sensing and high-speed wireless communications.

The researchers also say that the high-power picosecond operation of the device has promise for advanced medical treatment techniques, including cancer therapy. Terahertz waves are between microwaves and infrared radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum and oscillate at frequencies between 1 billion and 30 trillion cycles per second. Terahertz waves are sought after for some of their distinctive properties, including the ability to penetrate paper, clothing, wood, and walls.

The waves are also able to detect her pollution and can carry data, possibly opening the door to faster wireless communications. These waves are also non-ionizing, posing no human health risk. Technology the scientists created can be mounted on a chip, or flexible medium and could one day be installed inside smartphones or other handheld devices. The devices described are compact and inexpensive, with the ability to generate high-intensity waves from a tiny source in next to no time.

It operates by creating a "spark" the voltage spikes from 10V to 100V in the range of a picosecond. The device can generate that spark in a near-continuous manner by admitting up to 50 million signals every second. Construction includes a pair of metal plates that are as close as 20 nanometers apart. By applying voltage electron surge towards one of the plates forming a nanoplasma.

Once the voltage hits a certain threshold, electrons are emitted almost instantly to the second plate. The rapid movement creates a high-intensity pulse that produces the high-frequency waves. The device can generate both high-energy and high-frequency pulses. The scientists say that it's typically impossible to achieve high values for both variables.