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Space Technology

Testing New Transistors In Space 54

Roland Piquepaille writes "Northwestern University researchers have developed new transistors which are currently tested on the International Space Station (ISS) to see how they react to cosmic radiation. These transistors, which are using a new kind of gate dielectric material called a self-assembled nanodielectric (SAND), are exposed to radiation outside the ISS since March 22, 2008, and will stay there for one year. According to the researchers, these new transistors could be used 'on long space missions since early experiments on Earth indicate that the transistors hold up well when exposed to radiation.'"
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Testing New Transistors In Space

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  • sand, eh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Wednesday June 11, 2008 @11:59PM (#23759071)
    I'm pretty sure if I stuck some sand out in space, it'll still be sand in a year.
    • by mrbluze ( 1034940 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:12AM (#23759151) Journal

      I'm pretty sure if I stuck some sand out in space, it'll still be sand in a year.
      Tom Cruise: They're sand gates. Don't you see? This is a deliberate ploy to lure the aliens into our solar system, man. Once they go through the gates, then pow! we close the gates and snap! we got em.. bang! Wow! Pshhhhhhh! Ping! Wow... Solar, man.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by kestasjk ( 933987 )
      (Pssst, mods, I'm pretty sure it's a joke)
    • Well yes, but will the sand still work? Will I be able to build sandcastles out of them after they've been nuked by cosmic rays? If we ever send a guy to mars, he might get bored on mars. Maybe they have sand there, and he will be able to build sand castles there ASSUMING that space sand works right.
  • Cool, but I think first contact would be deliciously more awkward if we were still using valves.
    • adding insult to injury the /. editors have decided to increase the frequency of Rolands postings...
  • Cost of transistors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HandsOnFire ( 1059486 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:14AM (#23759169)

    Transistors are rediculously cheap when you look at the variable cost of producing them. But when you look at the cost of the manufacturing plants to produce them the price is just skyrocketing. I wouldn't be surprised if Intel funded some of this research or will look to doing it themselves within the next 20 years.

    cost of fabircation plants with time: http://www.icknowledge.com/economics/fab_costs.html [icknowledge.com]

    if that trend continues and Intel (or other semis) can cough up enough cash I could imagine them making chips out in space, at least for research purposes. (to start) Sure, you deal with radiation and maybe meteors and space junk. But having an earthquake-free, flood-free, zero-g lab would probably help provide us with some new insights into making more resilient, better peroming transistors and microchips.

    • Um... why would Intel care about radiation hardened manufacturing for it's next fab? This stuff is purely for application in space, like in satellites and rovers. The electronics on them are exposed to space radiation and unless properly factored into, the hardware could fail. Projects with more funding probably use custom chips that are fabbed using older processes that result in less densely packed transistors so that the chance of a cosmic particle striking and damaging a transistor is reduced.

      On the
    • Because instead of paying for earthquake or flood insurance, something which is well-understood and known to work against hazards which happen infrequently, we want to spend about $10,000 a pound to lift the entire facility into orbit, where it will be exposed to total-loss failure constantly, for the life of the facility. But with the $20 billion terrestrial plant moved into space at the costs of hundreds of billions of dollars, at least it will be secure from floods and earthquakes! We'll just replace t
    • by ledow ( 319597 )
      You pillock.

      Do the arithmetic. From the article you quoted:

      The capital cost to build and equip a semiconductor fabrication facility (presumably from scratch) has increased exponentially over time from approximately $6 million in 1970, to in excess of $2 billion for next generation 300mm Fabs coming on-line in the 2001- 2002 timeframe... If the current trend in fabrication facility costs continues, the cost of a Fab will exceed ***$10 billion*** by 2007, and may reach $18 billion by 2010.

      And now:

      The Interna
    • ...
      having an earthquake-free, flood-free, zero-g lab would probably help

      Well, the first two of these criteria are reasonably easy to achieve : don't build in California or elsewhere on the western edge of the Americas ; don't build in Taiwan or Japan ; don't build in much of Indonesia ; you'd probably want to avoid the Mediterranean too ; most of the rest of the world is pretty much OK from the earthquake point of view. Flood-proofing is simpler : any site with a 100m freeboard above any local drainage

  • SAND? (Score:5, Funny)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:18AM (#23759191) Homepage
    How about ROCKS: Reduced-Oxide Capacitor Kilowatt Signaling? Or DIRT: Densely-Inductive Resonant Transformers!
    • How about SPACE: Silicon Phase Activated Circuit Eviscerator.

      Then they could take SPACE into space and see what happens!

  • Sand? (Score:4, Funny)

    by AdamHaun ( 43173 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:23AM (#23759235) Journal
    As opposed to the old kind of dielectric, silicon dioxide, which is also known as... sand.

  • by n2505d ( 759637 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @12:43AM (#23759373)
    We developed "thin film" polymers that acted as a temperature sensor years ago that could applied as coatings on electronics. To make the polymers appropriate sensing, they were implanted with ions in an accelerator and in affect, made them (hence electonics coated) radiation hardened as well. This was specifically developed and funded for satellite technology. If you do the math, you can determine the likely DOD application. I imagine they could be used in a similar application as dielectrics as well.
  • What are the operational/performance characteristics of these SANDs as opposed to transistors with other types of dielectric material that also get used in the same manner?
  • let us hasten to welcome our self-assembling nanodielectric overlords back to Earth!
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:21AM (#23759863)
    they're called relays.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah, because relay's don't wear out and they're just so small, light and fast!! [/sarcasm].

      how is this informative? Relays still have many practical uses in electronics, but mostly for switching high currents/voltages at low frewquencies. As practical logic gates, they are fairly useless.

      Welcome to the year 2008. There are better ways now.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You and the retard who modded the OP informative wouldn't know a joke if it painted its bottom blue, bit you in the arse and shouted "I'm a joke".
  • better idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:40AM (#23759997)
    I don't think the processors are what they should be worried about. I mean yeah, it flips a 0 or 1 and your ship blows up cuz of corrupted signals to certain parts but still, the humans inside need to be shielded from the radiation too! And I know all computers can't necessarily be inside a space vehicle but if they spent time making really, really good shielding, they could put it on everything inside or outside and keep everyone and everything safe and use regular transistors. All I gotta say is can lead be magnetized? That's make good polarized hull plating. That or tritanium or whatever they used on Enterprise (the crappy recent show)
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Most space craft are unmanned.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by frieko ( 855745 )
      Humans get a lot of UV and background radiation on a daily basis and repair a remarkably high fraction of the damage, splicing back together DNA strands and such. But knock out one important transistor and you've boned a whole computer. Even a shielded computer needs to be rad hard. Plus as sibling mentioned, 99% of spacecraft are unmanned satellites. And lead is... heavy.
  • This press release is a again a prime example of how popular science has been dumbed down until it avails to nothing. There is not a single word about the true technical nature of this "discovery" - for anybody who is versed in the field this press release is utterly useless. I believe it is important to communicate science to the general public, but I really fail to understand why this automatically entails the total absence of an accurate technical description?

    One could probably argue that insiders may ha
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bender_ ( 179208 )

      Some googling revealed the groups publication history. I still fail to spot the relevant publication.

      http://chemgroups.northwestern.edu/marks/pubs.html [northwestern.edu]

      The research focus of the group suggests that "SANDS" is an organic dielectric for thin film transitors - with either organic or transparent inorganic semiconductor channel. This kinds of transistors are still very much in research stage and have only found very limited commercial applications. The most probably use would be in displays.

      We are talking about d
  • Yes our new transistor design has held up well after being bombarded with radiation for the past year. Alas our human crew didn't stand up so well. But our space ship survived! Success!
  • If they are trying to expose this device to cosmic radiation, the ISS is the wrong place to do it. ISS is in low earth orbit, [wikipedia.org] which is below the Van Allen radiation belt. While it will see more cosmic radiation than here on earth, (mostly due to the South Atlantic Anomaly [wikipedia.org]) A higher orbit is needed for a true simulation of a trip to deep space.
  • Wrong time? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jastus ( 996055 ) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @10:54AM (#23764097)
    The article doesn't say what energy range of cosmic radiation they are concerned about. If only very high energies, these are mostly the non-solar variety of cosmic radiation and the flux of these does maximize during solar minimum conditions (where we are now). In that case, they are testing at the right time. However, if these beasts are sensitive to lower-energy radiation such as that produced by energetic solar flares, levels of this radiation are now at their lowest point in the solar cycle. I've seen this before - test something in space at solar minimum and then be surprised when the production model fails when it is launched into solar maximum conditions.
  • A more detailed summary can be found American Chemical Society site, Chemical & Engineering News: Trading SiO2 Dielectrics for SANDs [acs.org]

    Marks's group creates SANDs through a simple dipping and curing process. Monolayers of hydrocarbons or extended [pi]-systems are applied to the gate electrode via the reaction of organochlorosilanes with the electrode's surface hydroxyl groups.

    Doesn't mean much to me but I get warm feeling all through me gutty-wuts when I read such geeky stuff.

  • Are these transistors comparable to the non-SAND kinds in terms of switching speed, current leakage, and other important properties of a transistor?

"Now this is a totally brain damaged algorithm. Gag me with a smurfette." -- P. Buhr, Computer Science 354