NIST Researchers Resurrect and Improve a Technique for Detecting Transistor Defects

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have revived and improved a once-reliable technique to identify and count defects in transistors, the building blocks of modern electronic devices such as smartphones and computers. Over the past decade, transistor components have become so small in high-performance computer chips that the popular method, known as charge pumping, could no longer count defects accurately. NIST’s new and improved method is sensitive enough for the most modern, minuscule technology, and can provide an accurate assessment of defects that could otherwise impair the performance of transistors and limit the reliability of the chips in which they reside. The new, modified charge pumping technique can detect single defects as small as the diameter of a hydrogen atom (one-tenth of a billionth of a meter) and can indicate where they’re located in the transistor. Researchers could also use the new capability to detect and manipulate a property in each electron known as quantum spin. The ability to manipulate individual spins has applications in both basic research and quantum engineering and computing. 

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