The energy consumption of semiconductor devices has been halved by the introduction of platinum nanoparticle ‘stepping stones’

Stepping stones are placed to help people to cross streams. As long as there are stepping stones that connect both sides of the water, one can easily get across in just a few steps.

Using the same principle, a research team at the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) (South Korea) has developed technology that cuts the power consumption in semiconductor devices in half by introducing ‘stepping stones’.

A research team led by Professor Junwoo Son and Dr Minguk Cho of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at POSTECH has succeeded in maximising the switching efficiency of oxide semiconductor devices by inserting platinum nanoparticles.

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Reducing energy need

The oxide material with the metal-insulator phase transition, in which the phase of a material rapidly changes from an insulator to a metal when the threshold voltage is reached, is spotlighted as a key material for fabricating low-power semiconductor devices.

The metal–insulator phase transition occurs when insulator domains, several nanometre (nm, billionth of a meter) units big, are transformed into metal domains.

The key was to reduce the magnitude of the voltage applied to the device to increase the switching efficiency of a semiconductor device.

The research team succeeded in increasing the switching efficiency of the device by using platinum nanoparticles.

When voltage was applied to a device, an electric current “skipped” through these particles and a rapid phase transition occurred, reducing energy need.

The memory effect of the device also increased by more than a million times.

In general, after the voltage is cut off, it immediately changes to the insulator phase where no current flows; this duration was extremely short at one millionth of a second.

However, it was confirmed that the memory effect of remembering the previous firing of the devices can be increased to several seconds, and the device could be operated again with relatively low voltage owing to the residual metallic domains remaining near the platinum nanoparticles.


This technology is anticipated to be essential for the development of next-generation electronic devices, such as intelligent semiconductors or neuromorphic semiconductor devices that can process vast amounts of data with less power.

This study was conducted with the support from the Basic Science Research Program, Mid-career Researcher Program, and the Next-generation Intelligence Semiconductor Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea.

The findings are published in Nature Communications.