Building electronics atom by atom
Victoria University has unveiled a unique piece of equipment used to make everyday electronics by layering atoms on top of each other very precisely.
The research equipment—Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE)—creates solid materials by depositing atom by atom, and is the only system of its kind in New Zealand.
Victoria’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology officially unveiled the new equipment in January, which Dr Franck Natali says is an exciting time for the study of new materials for physics and electronics.
“Consumers want the best computer or mobile phone, with greater data-processing and storage capability, but using less power. The performance of these devices is influenced by the purity of the material they are made from, the interface between different layers and the control of the thickness of these layers. The MBE system is the best for achieving the highest specifications in that.
“Almost all electronic devices people use are essentially made of thin layers of atoms. And when I say thin layers, it can be the size one billion times smaller than one meter. The machine is extremely precise.”
The equipment supports Dr Natali’s Marsden-funded research project, in which he and his team are investigating how a new material—rare-earth nitrides—could be used to fabricate new electronic devices.
“We are looking at how we can combine rare-earth nitrides with other materials to create magneto-electronic devices, including memory elements, spin light emitting diodes, and spin transistors,” says Dr Natali. “The research is closely linked to engineering and the MBE machine will greatly benefit our research.”
“It’s very exciting for students who are interested in working in the semiconductor field and electronics industry and something we are happy for them to be involved in,” says Dr Natali.
“There is a need to research how we deal with the increase of data, and we need more and more advanced devices to address this problem.”