The Semiconductor Revolutionary
Alex Lidow has spent much of his career developing a superefficient replacement for siliconSilicon has enjoyed some serious staying power. For going on 60 years, it’s been the semiconductor of choice at the heart of transistors—the tiny switches that power the Information Age. A valley has been named after it. Many billion-dollar empires have been forged from it. And now—look away, silicon—it may finally be on the verge of being replaced.The cool new semiconductor on the scene is gallium nitride, or GaN. Transistors made out of GaN can turn on and off faster and withstand higher voltages than those made from silicon. When you add these and a handful of other qualities together, GaN transistors—each slightly bigger than a grain of salt and sitting on tiny circuit boards as pictured above—should allow companies to make smaller, faster, smarter, and more power-efficient products. While GaN transistors are not going into PC chips today, they are being used to improve performance in prototypes of self-driving cars and virtual-reality helmets and are paving the way for entirely new consumer-electronics and medical devices. Think wireless charging devices and X-ray pills. “Here’s a place where we actually have a new material and are looking at some applications that have not quite existed before,” says Stephan Ohr, the director for semiconductor research at Gartner.