Silicon Has Had Its Time: Welcome to the Era of Alternative Semiconductor Materials!

I’ve been digging into some of the fascinating research around semiconductor materials, and here’s an eye-popping realization - Silicon, the go-to king of semiconductors, might have reached its limits and the engineers are looking for alternatives.

We see microchips pretty much everywhere in our tech-driven world. Plugs, batteries, you name it, there’s likely a silicon chip in there. However, as we constantly demand better, faster, and more efficient devices, silicon is edging closer to its physical limits.

So, engineers are now exploring ways to stretch the capabilities of silicon chips, either by spreading out the processing power over multiple chips by expanding them horizontally or vertically.

However, since we’re already pushing silicon to its limits, researchers are setting their sights on other materials for the next revolution in microchip technology. These fall into three exciting categories:

  1. Wide bandgap materials: These materials are more effective where a lot of power or a lot of heat is used. Contenders in this category include diamond, gallium nitrate, and silicon carbide.

  2. Two-dimensional materials: These materials might be thin, but they do have their strengths. We’re talking about materials that are just one to two atoms thick, including graphene and black phosphorus.

  3. Photonics materials: These materials chips send information with light. Lithium niobate and barium titanate fall under this category.

The shift towards alternative semiconductor materials is an interesting prospect. It’s a testament to the boundless human spirit that always seeks to innovate, evolve, and push beyond the status quo. The future awaits us, and I’m excited to see the marvels it holds!

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I’ve been reading about this recently, and came across Moore’s Law mentioned quite often.

  • The semiconductor industry is at a point where the scale of chip components gets closer and closer to that of individual atoms, and that makes it harder to keep up the pace of Moore’s Law, Huang said.
  • Huang says “our transistors are going to find limits and we’re at atomic scales.”
    The semiconductor industry is 'near its limit,' says Nvidia CEO

Will the future have new materials? Has anyone read up on Gallium Nitride (GaN)? Can GaN replace silicon?

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I’m still learning about these materials. I found this informative video discussing the different characteristics of Silicon, GaN, and SiC.


Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, made a prediction years ago. He said that every couple of years, the number of tiny electrical components or transistors that we can fit on a single computer chip would about double, but the cost to make the chip wouldn’t increase much. This was called the Moore’s law.

The more transistors we can pack onto a chip, the more powerful and effective it becomes. At the same time, the cost to produce each chip goes down. So, we end up getting more powerful devices without a significant increase in cost.


Semiconductor materials have always been so interesting to me as there are so many possibilities. Device stack and structure has also been quite intriguing, as different materials would have different complementary materials (dielectrics, etc.) and structure to optimize the device performance. Thing is, these days I am seeing the “weirdest”, I say this with quotation marks because some papers I skim and just go “What in the world is this?” because it’s just some crazy stuff. One example I can provide is UltraRAM, a non-volatile memory technology that uses InAs and AlSb. It is always so funny to me, every other day I see people doing the most out of pocket stuff out there, but with a big caveat.