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"Vac to the Future" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are proposing a new spin on an old method: A switch from the use of silicon electronics back to vacuums as a medium for electron transport--exhibiting a significant paradigm shift in electronics.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

'Vac' to the future

I'm Bob Karson with The Discovery Files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: '40s music on vintage radio) Look in the back of your granddad's vintage console radio from the '40s, and you'll see some unusual glowing glass vacuum tubes that up until 1947, although bulky and inefficient, were state-of-the-art for moving electrons. With the advent of solid-state transistors vacuum-tube technology pretty much faded away. (Sound effect: radio fades out with a crackle)

Over time, as scientists were able to shrink the size of transistors, they could add more and increase the efficiency of circuit boards. But with transistors getting down to lower nanometer scale, further downsizing is increasingly difficult. Now, a team from the University of Pittsburgh is improving on silicon electronics using--you guessed it--a form of vacuum technology.

The Pitt researchers noted that in a typical solid-state device, electrons often experience collisions or become scattered, (Sound effect: analog slowing and deepening of voice) slowing them d-o-w-n. (Sound effect: traffic jam sound) The scientists redesigned the vacuum electrical device, meshing it with solid-state electronics. They created nanoscale vacuum channels that give the electrons a clear, no-collision path. This speedier movement of electrons could make for faster, more energy-efficient transistors.

A new spin on an old concept could be making a comeback, (Sound effect: jitterbug music) which is more than I can say for the jitterbug.

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