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This major breakthrough could end PC overheating worries for good

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Silicon might be the de facto standard for today's computing, but it might be due for a change if new research from MIT, the University of Houston, and other institutions is to be believed.

Cubic boron arsenide, a chemical compound cooked up from a combination of boron and arsenic, could apparently be a better semiconductor, bypassing some of the weaknesses of silicon when it comes to heat sensitivity. 

In fact, according to research published in Science (opens in new tab),  Cubic boron arsenide has the "third-best thermal conductivity of any material — next to diamond and isotopically enriched cubic boron nitride".

Is this the future?

The research said that more work would be needed to determine whether cubic boron arsenide can be "made in a practical, economical form, much less replace the ubiquitous silicon". 

But even in the near future, the material could find "some uses where its unique properties would make a significant difference" according to the researchers. 

That being said, the research outlined the vast potential that the compound has.

Cubic boron arsenide is apparently much more accommodating to “holes” — electrons’ positively charged counterparts.

The lower heat sensitivity of cubic boron could also make a huge difference.

“Heat is now a major bottleneck for many electronics,” said MIT postdoc Jungwoo Shin who co-authored the paper. “Silicon carbide is replacing silicon for power electronics in major EV industries including Tesla, since it has three times higher thermal conductivity than silicon despite its lower electrical mobilities". 

"Imagine what boron arsenides can achieve, with 10 times higher thermal conductivity and much higher mobility than silicon. It can be a game changer.”

It's not just cubic boron arsenide that is threatening to overtake silicon one day.

Researchers from the University of Illinois built 4-bit and 8-bit processors entirely out of plastic, which apparently had an 81% success rate, at least for the 4-bit models. 

It's important to note that silicon never really had a monopoly in the world of semiconductors anyway.

Gallium arsenide, built from gallium and arsenic, is widely used in lasers as an alternative to silicon.

Via MIT News (opens in new tab)

Will McCurdy

Will McCurdy has been writing about technology for over five years. He has a wide range of specialities including cybersecurity, fintech, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, cloud computing, payments, artificial intelligence, retail technology, and venture capital investment. He has previously written for AltFi, FStech, Retail Systems, and National Technology News and is an experienced podcast and webinar host, as well as an avid long-form feature writer.