Quantum computer

Scientists ‘flip’ for semiconductor discovery that could lead to ultra-efficient electronics

Concepts related to quantum computing might seem too complex for the average person to comprehend. But a quantum tech discovery at the University of Michigan is relatively easy to understand: A new material “flipped” from a conductor to an insulator and could lead to a new generation of ultra-efficient electronics.

“We’ve opened up a new playground for the future of electronic and quantum materials,” Robert Hovden, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, said in a news release.

The team created a material sample made from several layers that are only one atom thick. At first it was unstable, but one of the researchers changed the material’s properties by heating it in an oxygen-free environment and watching it under an electron microscope. The atoms within the layers rearranged themselves when heated to cause the flip to a different state.

This research is unique because the material switch happened at room temperature. Such behavior is usually only observed at super-cold temperatures of -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists typically have difficulty making the reaction stable and repeatable at warmer temperatures, but the UM scientists’ new material stays stable up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Exotic quantum properties like this flip could offer ways to store more information in more powerful electronic devices that are far more energy efficient. Future devices might only need a quick zap of energy to switch between states to store data instead of the steady electricity stream currently needed.

The research team will continue to study and tweak their process and will test ways to further control the exotic quantum behavior. The ultimate goal is to develop materials that quickly flip from one state to another at room temperature and on demand.