BOSTON – Researchers at MIT and the University of Houston have experimented with a new material called cubic boron arsenide, showing that the novel semiconductor can overcome a number of limitations that plague silicon and drag down some of its applications in electronics.

While silicon crystals are great for conducting electrons, it far less accommodating for their “holes”, the second type of charge carrier that is responsible for generating an electric current in a semiconductor material. A hole can be seen as the “opposite” of an electron, although confusingly enough, holes aren’t really particles in the same way electrons are, rather they represent the absence of an electron in an atom.

Besides poor hole transfer, silicon also isn’t a good heat conductor, which explains why your smartphone will start to overheat a while after you use resource-intensive apps.

In order to overcome these limitations, scientists across the world have been experimenting with all sorts of alternatives, in search of the ‘golden grail’ of semiconductors. In 2018, researchers led by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Gang Chen theoretically predicted that cubic boron arsenide (c-BAs) should have an ultrahigh thermal conductivity comparable to diamond, as well as excellent electron-hole mobility. This combination of properties makes the material rather unique and an ideal building block for transistors.

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