A Chinese professor previously accused of espionage was involved in the discovery of what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has dubbed the “best semiconductor material ever found”.
Gang Chen, a professor at MIT, was among many Chinese researchers at US universities who have been prosecuted for alleged ties to the Chinese government in recent years. Last year he was arrested by federal agents but was eventually cleared by the Ministry of Justice espionage charges for lack of evidence.
Eight months later, he was part of the team at MIT, the University of Houston and other research centers that discovered that cubic boron arsenide is a better conductor of heat and electricity than silicon.
The material is also said to be better than silicon at conducting both electrons and its positively charged counterpart, the “electron hole”. This is a known weakness of silicon, which limits the speed of silicon-based semiconductors.
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In a press release, Chain said the new material is a potential “game changer” because it has been shown to conduct heat 10 times better than silicon.
According to Chen and the team, they now see the material as a viable alternative to silicon for the next generation of electronic products. They noted, however, that further research and testing is needed to purify the material and establish its long-term stability.
The researchers also said they would need special equipment to further study its properties.
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The discovery is important for the United States, which is trying to strengthen its technological competitiveness against China. Last month, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed the $280 billion Chips and Science Bill that aims to help the United States compete with China in domestic chip manufacturing.
Chen, who naturalized as a US citizen in 2000, has been accused of failing to disclose his ties to Chinese institutions when applying for grants from the Department of Energy. Before the dismissal of the charges against him, he obtained the support of the scientific community, including more than 170 colleagues who rallied behind him.
Scientists who criticized the arrest said such investigations could deny the United States potentially important discoveries by scaring off scholars, especially those in China, from moving to the United States.
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