A new material called amorphous boron nitride is promising to usher in a new era of significantly more efficient chipsets. At least according to Samsung, whose scientists successfully isolated a-BN in partnership with the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology and the Cambridge University in June. While Samsung’s official account of the breakthrough frames it as a scientific achievement for the ages, what it fails to mention is that it more or less stumbled upon a-BN entirely on accident.
CU Professor Manish Chhowalla who was personally involved in the project testified as much on Twitter:
We were trying to make high quality h-BN at low temp but ended up with amorphous BN. It turns out that a-BN is pretty interesting! It took a collaboration led by HyeonSuk Shin @UNIST, Samsung, @ChhowallaL and @StephanSroche to uncover its amazing dielectric properties. pic.twitter.com/qE7is7t39j
— Manish Chhowalla (@chhowalla) June 24, 2020
An insulator candidate of unprecedented quality
The substance itself belongs to the category of two-dimensional materials, meaning its molecular structure is literally just a single layer of atoms. Coupled with the fact a-BN can be grown on a wafer at “just” 400°C, Samsung predicts it has a bright future in semiconductors. Relative to its other properties, its insulatory capabilities are second-to-none, with the material boasting a permittivity number of 1.78κ. That’s a significant improvement over the currently most widespread solution in the industry – porous-hydrogenated oxidized silicon carbon, or p-SiCOH, rated at 2.5κ.
For added context, the recommended κ value of dielectric insulators will only drop to 2κ come 2028, as per the latest revision of the IEEE IRDS standards guidance published in 2018.
In other words, a-BN should generate less disruptive electric fields inside the materials it’s used on, courtesy of its lower relative permittivity which translates to the final product having a greater ability to hold a charge. This, in turn, will enable even more precise circuit manufacturing, ultimately resulting in improved chip efficiency. It goes without saying we’re still some years away from these benefits making their way to consumer electronics, but Samsung says it’s eager to put a-BN to commercial use in the very near future. In fact, it already started prototyping its use cases last month.
It is envisioned that a-BN will be used as an insulator alongside graphene with silicon-based semiconductors to help advance electronics – making them more powerful and more compact than ever. As chips have become more and more compact, the data and power transmission interference problem has grown and a-BN could help reduce this problem, spurring a period of strong advances.