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Testing New Transistors In Space

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the the-fantastic-transistors dept.

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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sand, eh? (4, Funny)

yincrash (854885) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759071)

I'm pretty sure if I stuck some sand out in space, it'll still be sand in a year.

I'm on what he's on. (5, Funny)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759151)

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:sand, eh? (0, Offtopic)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759359)

(Pssst, mods, I'm pretty sure it's a joke)

Re:sand, eh? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759383)

(Pssst, mods, I'm pretty sure it's a joke)
(Pssst, mods, I'm pretty sure he was being deadly serious)

Re:sand, eh? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23760281)

Just because it's a joke, doesn't mean it's funny. Actually, thinking about it, most +5, Funny posts on /. are quite lame.

Re:sand, eh? (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#23764913)

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.

First contact (2, Funny)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759107)

Cool, but I think first contact would be deliciously more awkward if we were still using valves.

Re:First contact (1)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760211)

adding insult to injury the /. editors have decided to increase the frequency of Rolands postings...

Cost of transistors (5, Interesting)

HandsOnFire (1059486) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Cost of transistors (0, Offtopic)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759219)

The cost of fabrication plants is just an example of an oligopolistic market at its finest. The high prices maintain the low demand for these machines which allows the oligopolies to maintain their high prices. This results in the high volume requirement: you have to make a lot of chips to cover the cost of the machines you use to do it. That prevents new players from entering the market.

It's a vicious cycle.

Re:Cost of transistors (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759297)

Is it possible for "little guys" to rent the services of a fabrication plant to make low-volume runs, but still make a buck in the end?

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23762539)

welcome to arm, PA semi, mips, and heck even AMD.

AMD only makes part of the chips they sell, last I knew most of their chips were fabbed by IBM.

Re:Cost of transistors (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759395)

Stick to software, bub. You think it's cheap to build machines to etch the latest CPUs that your convoluted software will bring to its knees?

Re:Cost of transistors (2, Insightful)

robo_mojo (997193) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759991)

Stick to software, bub. You think it's cheap to build machines to etch the latest CPUs that your convoluted software will bring to its knees?
...because they're doing this just so you can run your convoluted desktop software. </sarcasm>

There are entire classes of problems that are intractably hard, even with the best known algorithms implemented very efficiently, optimized over years of study. Unless you have a solution to solve NP problems in P time, you will have to put up with advancements in CPU technology for the foreseeable future.

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759797)

The cost of fabrication plants is just an example of an oligopolistic market at its finest.

Can you please explain how we're supposed to get process shrinks and new interconnects, allowing higher clock rates and lower power consumption, without investing in new equipment?

Re:Cost of transistors (2, Funny)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 6 years ago | (#23762619)

Can you please explain how we're supposed to get process shrinks and new interconnects, allowing higher clock rates and lower power consumption, without investing in new equipment?
1. Mow out goofy looking hieroglyphics into corn fields at Roswell.
2. Camouflage Patriot Missles with green and yellow paint.
3. ???
4. Profit!

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23766953)

So is that why all those missile silos were located in cornfields?

Re:Cost of transistors (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759595)

In Soviet Russia, Transistors are REDiculously cheap

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

poached (1123673) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759667)

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 other hand, Intel wants to make things smaller, pack more cores into an area, so it's not going to care about the radiation hardened stuff, unless the Ozone melts again or something.

Re:Cost of transistors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23760845)

If I remember right most of the problems with cosmic rays on earth had to do with secondary reactions caused by cosmic rays striking the casing materials. This has been largely resolved by better choice of materials.

Smaller fabrications actually provide better protection against cosmic ray strikes in some applications as there is not enough room for them to get lodged into the circuts.

Re:Cost of transistors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774597)

for it's next fab

"its".

More fantasy from space enthusiasts (2, Funny)

patio11 (857072) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759859)

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 the miniscule threat of floods/earthquakes with the threat of, well, whatever kills it will probably be pretty unique -- a miniscule design flaw in a pressure seal, a one-off bug in control code, there are a billion possible things that can go wrong and they all spell TIME FOR A NEW PLANT. And estimating that risk? Well, assuming we're as "successful" protecting the fab plant as we are at protecting our shuttle pilots, there will only be a 2% chance or so of each flight to it blowing up.

And we're doing this to... save money.

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 6 years ago | (#23761273)

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 International Space Station has been far more expensive than originally anticipated. The ESA estimates the overall cost from the start of the project in the early 1990s to the prospective end in 2017 to be in the region of 100 billion (***$157 billion*** or £65.3 billion).

Even taking into account the over-budget of the ISS, the cost of building a single space station (with the help of MANY countries) is way, way, way, way over building a new semiconductor plant on earth every, say, five years or so. And that's assuming that the size, cost, and other factors inherent in the ISS are anywhere near that needed to pump out useful, complex semiconductors (they can't even make a loo work properly, so I think we're safe to say that it isn't).

It's an utterly ludicrous idea to suggest it's even viable within the next few decades, let alone at all, and certainly not given that being in space doesn't help *anyone*, it just complicates a million things. That new factory you've built? You've gotta check and change EVERY component to work in space reliably. You've gotta get tons and tons of equipment and raw materials up there and somehow have a test facility up there too.

It's pure science fiction. We'll build a moonbase that has it's own semi-conductor fab before private companies start doing "research" like this.

Re:Cost of transistors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23786877)

a moonbase that has it's own semi-conductor fab

"its", "semiconductor".

Re:Cost of transistors (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775407)

...
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 and a slope of a few % across the site (so water has an inclination to flow downhill, and a local downhill to flow too) ; after that, you only really need to worry about the precipitation directly on site.

I don't see fab plants moving into space any time soon (much though I'd like to).

The zero-g thing might be useful, but for really fine fabrication I'd have thought that vibration within the machinery would be more of an issue. To deal with that, the one thing that you don't want is cosmo-/taiko-/astro-nauts trudging around in their boots. An orbital fab would be automated.

SAND? (4, Funny)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759191)

How about ROCKS: Reduced-Oxide Capacitor Kilowatt Signaling? Or DIRT: Densely-Inductive Resonant Transformers!

Re:SAND? (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759209)

How about SPACE: Silicon Phase Activated Circuit Eviscerator.

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

Sand? (3, Funny)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759235)

As opposed to the old kind of dielectric, silicon dioxide, which is also known as... sand.

Methods Done Decades Ago (5, Interesting)

n2505d (759637) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

hmm (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759393)

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?

When they're finally ready to present themselves, (1)

fishtorte (1117491) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759469)

let us hasten to welcome our self-assembling nanodielectric overlords back to Earth!

Re:When they're finally ready to present themselve (1)

BrGaribaldi (710238) | more than 6 years ago | (#23763955)

Overlords? We're talking solar radiation and transistors here, this is Fantastic Four meets Iron Man!

Microsemi (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759531)

God I hope Microsemi doesn't get involved in making these new transistors. If they do, it would go from a promising technology to a delayed piece of doo doo.

Pff, radiation-proof logic gates already exist (2, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759863)

they're called relays.

Re:Pff, radiation-proof logic gates already exist (3, Insightful)

inasity_rules (1110095) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760183)

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:Pff, radiation-proof logic gates already exist (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23760365)

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".

Re:Pff, radiation-proof logic gates already exist (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23760505)

It isn't that funny. It's kind of lame.

Re:Pff, radiation-proof logic gates already exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23796279)

because relay's don't wear out

"relays".

Oh noes! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23759915)

My mom has a penis :(

Does Roland Split 50/50 With Slashdot? (0, Offtopic)

Shturmovik (632314) | more than 6 years ago | (#23759927)

Everybody knows he pays SF to get every submission to his plagiarist adblog posted, but how much? Must be a pretty lucrative deal.

Re:Does Roland Split 50/50 With Slashdot? (0, Offtopic)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760229)

I don't know *what* the deal is, but that there is some kind of deal would seem to be the more likely conclusion.

Maybe they should change ./ into 'rolandp plagiarism inc' ?

Is there anybody out there that can make a stab at how much he makes from this ?

better idea (3, Interesting)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:better idea (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23763327)

Most space craft are unmanned.

Re:better idea (2, Insightful)

frieko (855745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23767403)

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.

hYUO FAIL It!? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23760303)

AMERICA) might be whats they think is ME! It's official

University press releases (1)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760791)

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 have heard about "SAND" (Stupid Acronym for Nonexistent Device?) through usual technical channels. But this is not the case here as the scientific impact seems to be rather limited.

Re:University press releases (2, Informative)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760853)


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 devices which are >3 orders of magnitude large and slower than those used in modern CPUs. The press release alludes to "intel CPUs", which could not be further off and is grossly misleading. This is a completely different application.

Re:University press releases (1)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23760955)


Ok, I should have RTFA instead of the press release.

http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/jacsat/2008/130/i24/abs/ja801309g.html [acs.org]

SAMs deposited from vapour phase used as dielectrics for organic thin films transistors. Not exactly a novel idea, but possibly some iterative progress.

Still, this can never be used to manufacture anything resembling a modern CPU. RFID tags, as mentioned in the article, may be an application.

Alas the crew (2, Funny)

GottliebPins (1113707) | more than 6 years ago | (#23761853)

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!

Wrong place (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23763021)

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.

Re:Wrong place (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23773687)

But it's a heck of a lot cheaper to send up a simple test circuit weighing a few pounds (cost
They'll probably get to higher orbits later, as they establish the maturity of the technology and partner with an appropriate spacecraft.

Also, it's not merely due to the SAA. The altitude is a major factor. Even on an airplane you get something double the cosmic ray exposure as you do on the ground.

Wrong time? (3, Interesting)

jastus (996055) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

More detailed article (1)

CaptDeuce (84529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23764179)

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.

Circuit Properties (1)

Veggie13 (1055730) | more than 6 years ago | (#23764215)

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