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Motorola cooks up chip research

Motorola has announced a breakthrough in materials science it says will be the key to a new class of high-performance chips,...

Motorola has announced a breakthrough in materials science it says will be the key to a new class of high-performance chips, claiming a revolution for the semiconductor industry.

The innovation should pave the way for faster and less-expensive devices, from 3G (third-generation) mobile handsets with streaming video to automotive collision-avoidance systems, the company said.

Motorola researchers claim they have succeeded in combining standard silicon semiconductor technology with compound semiconductors known as III-V materials, so-called because of their positions in the third and fifth columns of the periodic table of elements.

The compounds, which include gallium arsenide and indium phosphate, have superior electrical and optical characteristics allowing for higher switching speeds and power efficiency, but so far have been of limited practical use. By contrast silicon, the workhorse of the semiconductor industry, is cheap but has its own limitations, including its poor ability to emit light (hence the difficulty of integrating silicon chips into laser or fibre-optic applications).

A practical application of III-V semiconductor materials could mean a new wave of faster and cheaper applications, even including all-optical switches. But a spokesman for Motorola would not speculate on when consumer products featuring the new technology might hit the marketplace.

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