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IBM Touts Chip Breakthrough

It says it's found a way to apply semiconducting material in thin layers to surfaces larger than conventional silicon wafers at lower cost and with better performance.
IBM says it has devised a way to apply semiconducting material in extraordinarily thin layers to surfaces larger than conventional silicon wafers--such as sheets of plastic--at lower cost and with better performance than previous techniques have allowed. If the new method can be transferred to production, it could lead to the ability to coat bendable plastic sheets with computer circuits, or embed more intelligence onto radio-frequency identification tags and sensors, says David Mitzi, who led the research team at IBM's Watson laboratory. The advance was reported in the March 18 edition of the journal Nature.

IBM's breakthrough relates to a semiconductor-manufacturing method called spin-coating, in which a semiconducting material is spread onto a fast-spinning wafer. The research team found a new way to dissolve inorganic semiconducting materials called chalcogenides, which let electrical charges move through them 10 times more easily than previously used organic materials. That could lead to more-effective circuits and applications in manufacturing bendable or wearable displays, solar cells, and other devices, Mitzi says. IBM applied the chalcogenides to a wafer in a film about 5 billionths of a meter thick, and thinks the technique can be applied to larger surfaces as well.

To dissolve them, the researchers used hydrazine, a toxic and explosive material used in rocket fuel that Mitzi says the team is trying to replace with another solvent. So far, he adds, the researchers have replaced 80% of the hydrazine with water.