Thursday, December 1, 2011

Erbium chloride silicate and the next generation of computers

"New Material Enhances Solar, Computers, Lighting Applications"

November 23rd, 2011

NASA Tech Briefs

Arizona State University researchers have created a new compound crystal material, called erbium chloride silicate, that can be used to develop the next generation of computers, improve the capabilities of the Internet, increase the efficiency of silicon-based photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electrical energy, and enhance the quality of solid-state lighting and sensor technology.

The breakthrough involves the first-ever synthesis of a new erbium compound in the form of a single-crystal nanowire, which has superior properties compared to erbium compounds in other forms. Erbium emits photons in the wavelength range of 1.5 micrometers; it is used in doping optical fibers to amplify the signal of the Internet and telephones in telecommunications systems. Doping is the term used to describe the process of inserting low concentrations of various elements into other substances as a way to alter the electrical or optical properties of the substances to produce desired results. The elements used in such processes are referred to as dopants.

“The new compound materials containing erbium can be integrated with silicon to combine computing and communication functionalities on the same inexpensive silicon platform to increase the speed of computing and Internet operation at the same time,” said Cun-Zheng Ning, an electrical engineering professor at ASU.

What is unique about the new erbium material synthesized by Ning’s group is that erbium is no longer randomly introduced as a dopant. Instead, erbium is part of a uniform compound and the number of erbium atoms is a factor of 1,000 more than the maximum amount that can be introduced in other erbium-doped materials. Increasing the number of erbium atoms provides more optical activity to produce stronger lighting.

Ning and his team are now trying to use the new erbium compound for various applications, such as increasing silicon solar cell efficiency and making miniaturized optical amplifiers for chip-scale photonic systems for computers and high-speed Internet.

Erbium [Wikipedia]

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