Start Your Semiconductor Fab With This DIY Tube Furnace

Most of us are content to get our semiconductors from the usual sources, happily abstracting away the complexity locked within those little epoxy blobs. But eventually, you might get the itch to roll your own semiconductors, in which case you’ll need to start gearing up. And one of the first tools you’ll need is likely to be something like this DIY tube furnace.

For the uninitiated, [ProjectsInFlight] helpfully explains in the video below just what a tube furnace is and why you’d need one to start working with semiconductors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a tube furnace is just a tube that gets really, really hot — like 1,200° C. In addition to the extreme heat, commercial furnaces are often set up to seal off the ends of the tube to create specific conditions within, such as an inert gas atmosphere or even a vacuum. The combination of heat and atmospheric control allows the budding fabricator to transform silicon wafers using chemical and physical processes.

[ProjectsInFlight]’s tube furnace started with a length of heat-resistant quartz glass tubing and a small tub of sodium silicate refractory cement, from the plumbing section of any home store. The tube was given a thin coat of cement and dried in a low oven before wrapping it with nichrome wire. The wrapped tube got another, thicker layer of silicate cement and an insulating wrap of alumina ceramic wool before applying power to cure everything at 1,000° C. The cured tube then went into a custom-built sheet steel enclosure with plenty of extra insulation, along with an Arduino and a solid-state relay to control the furnace. The video below concludes with testing the furnace by growing a silicon dioxide coating on a scrap of silicon wafer. This was helped along by the injection of a few whisps of water vapor while ramping the furnace temperature up, and the results are easily visible.

[ProjectsInFlight] still needs to add seals to the tube to control the atmosphere in there, an upgrade we’ll be on the lookout for. It’s already a great start, although it might take a while to catch up to our friend [Sam Zeloof].

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Hackaday Links: August 13, 2023

Remember that time when the entire physics community dropped what it was doing to replicate the extraordinary claim that a room-temperature semiconductor had been discovered? We sure do, and if it seems like it was just yesterday, it’s probably because it pretty much was. The news of LK-99, a copper-modified lead apatite compound, hit at the end of July; now, barely three weeks later, comes news that not only is LK-99 not a superconductor, but that its resistivity at room temperature is about a billion times higher than copper. For anyone who rode the “cold fusion” hype train back in the late 1980s, LK-99 had a bit of code smell on it from the start. We figured we’d sit back and let science do what science does, and sure enough, the extraordinary claim seems not to be able to muster the kind of extraordinary evidence it needs to support it — with the significant caveat that a lot of the debunking papers –and indeed the original paper on LK-99 — seem still to be just preprints, and have not been peer-reviewed yet.

So what does all this mean? Sadly, probably not much. Despite the overwrought popular media coverage, a true room-temperature and pressure superconductor was probably not going to save the world, at least not right away. The indispensable Asianometry channel on YouTube did a great video on this. As always, his focus is on the semiconductor industry, so his analysis has to be viewed through that lens. He argues that room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t make much difference in semiconductors because the place where they’d most likely be employed, the interconnects on chips, will still have inductance and capacitance even if their resistance is zero. That doesn’t mean room-temperature superconductors wouldn’t be a great thing to have, of course; seems like they’d be revolutionary for power transmission if nothing else. But not so much for semiconductors, and certainly not today.

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Watch Out SiC, Diamond Power Semiconductors Are Coming For You!

The vast majority of semiconductors products we use every day are primarily constructed on a silicon process, using wafers of pure silicon. But whilst the economics are known, and processes mature, there are still some weaknesses. Especially for power applications. gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) are materials that have seen an explosion in uses in the power space, driven especially by an increase in electric vehicle sales and other high-power/high-voltage systems such as solar arrays. But, SiC is expensive and very energy intensive. It looks like diamond substrates could become much more common if the work by Diamfab takes off.

Diamond, specifically thin films of synthetic diamond formed on a suitable substrate, exhibits many desirable properties, such as a vastly superior maximum electric field compared with silicon, and a thermal conductivity five times better than copper. Such properties give diamond structures a big power and voltage advantage over SiC, which is in turn a lot better the pure silicon. This also means that diamond-based transistors are more energy efficient, making them smaller and cheaper, as well as better performing. Without the high formation temperatures needed for SiC, diamond could well be their downfall, especially once you factor in the reduced environmental impact. There is even some talk about solid-state, high-voltage diamond insulator capacitors becoming possible. It certainly is an interesting time to be alive!

We do cover news about future semiconductors from time to time, like this piece about cubic boron arsenide. We’ve also seen diamond being used as a battery, albeit a very weak radiative one.

[via EETimes]

Wireless Charging On A Massive Scale

Despite the increasing popularity of various electric vehicles, the limits of battery technology continue to be a bottleneck in their day-to-day use. They don’t behave well in extreme temperatures, they can wear out quickly, and, perhaps most obviously, charging them is often burdensome. Larger batteries take longer to charge, and this can take a lot of time and space, but this research team from Chalmers University are looking to make this process just a little bit easier.

The group has been developing an inductive wireless charging method for large vehicles including cars, trucks, busses, and ferries that can deliver 500 kW across a 15 cm (6 inch) air gap. The system relies on a silicon carbide semiconductor and extremely thin copper wire in order to make all this happen, and eliminates the need for any human involvement in the charging process. This might not be too much of a hassle for plugging in an electric car, but for larger vehicles like busses and ferries traditional charging methods often require a robot arm or human to attach the charging cables.

While this technology won’t decrease the amount of time it takes batteries to charge, it will improve the usability of devices like these. Even for cars, this could mean simply pulling into a parking space and getting the car’s battery topped off automatically. For all the talk about charging times of batteries, there is another problem looming which is that plenty of charging methods are proprietary as well. This charger attempts to develop an open-source standard instead.

Thanks to [Ben] for the tip!

Frequency Tells Absolute Temperature

It is no secret that semiconductor junctions change their behavior with temperature, and you can use this fact to make a temperature sensor. The problem is that you have to calibrate each device for any particular transistor you want to use as a sensor, even if they have the same part number. Back in 2011  1991, the famous [Jim Williams] noted that while the voltage wasn’t known, the difference between two readings at different current levels would track with temperature in a known way. He exploited this in an application note and, recently, [Stephen Woodward] used the same principle in an oscillator that can read the temperature.

The circuit uses an integrator and a comparator. A FET switches between two values of collector current. A comparator drives the FET and also serves as the output.  Rather than try to puzzle out the circuit just from the schematic, you can easily simulate it with LT Spice or Falstad. The Falstad simulator doesn’t have a way to change the temperature, but you can see it operating. The model isn’t good enough to really read a temperature, but you can see how the oscillation works

You can think of this as a temperature-to-frequency converter. It would be easy to read with, say, a microcontroller and convert the period to temperature.  Every 10 microseconds is equal to a degree Kelvin. Not bad for something you don’t have to calibrate.

Thermistors are another way to measure temperature. Sometimes, you don’t need a sensor at all.

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Hackaday Links: November 6, 2022

Remember the chip shortage? We sure do, mainly because as far as we can tell, it’s still going on, at least judging by the fact that you can’t get a Raspberry Pi for love or money. But that must just be noise, because according to a report in the Straits Times, the chip shortage is not only over, it’s reversed course enough that there’s now a glut of semiconductors out there. The article claims that the root cause of this is slowing demand for products like smartphones, an industry that’s seeing wave after wave of orders to semiconductor manufacturers like TSMC canceled. Chips for PCs are apparently in abundance now too, as the spasm of panic buying machine for remote working during the pandemic winds down. Automakers are still feeling the pinch, though, so much so that Toyota is now shipping only one smart key with new cars, instead of the usual two. So there seems to be some way to go before balance is restored to the market, but whatever — just call us when Amazon no longer has to offer financing on an 8 GB Pi.

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Copper: Rectifying AC A Century Ago

[Robert Murray-Smith] presents for us an interesting electronic device from years gone by, before the advent of Silicon semiconductors, the humble metal oxide rectifier. After the electronic dust had settled following the brutal AC/DC current wars of the late 19th century — involving Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse to name a few of the ringleaders — AC was the eventual winner. But there was a problem. It’s straightforward to step down the high voltage AC from the distribution network to a more manageable level with a transformer, and feed that straight into devices which can consume alternating current such as light bulbs and electrical heaters. But other devices really want DC, and to get that, you need a rectifier.

It turns out, that even in those early days, we had semiconductor devices which could perform this operation, based not upon silicon or germanium, but copper. Copper (I) Oxide is a naturally occurring P-type semiconductor, which can be easily constructed by heating a copper sheet in a flame, and scraping off the outer layer of Copper (II) Oxide leaving the active layer below. Simply making contact to a piece of steel is sufficient to complete the device.

Obviously a practical rectifier is a bit harder to make, with a degree of control required, but you get the idea. A CuO metal rectifier can rectify as well as operate as a thermopile, and even as a solar cell, it’s just been forgotten about once we got all excited about silicon.

Other similar metallic rectifiers also saw some action, such as the Selenium rectifier, based on the properties of a Cadmium Selenide – Selenium interface, which forms an NP junction, albeit one that can’t handle as much power as good old copper. One final device, which was a bit of an improvement upon the original CuO rectifiers, was based upon a stack of Copper Sulphide/Magnesium metal plates, but they came along too late. Once we discovered the wonders of germanium and silicon, it was consigned to the history books before it really saw wide adoption.

We’ve covered CuO rectifiers before, but the Copper Sulphide/Magnesium rectifier is new to us. And if you’re interested in yet more ways to steer electrons in one direction, checkout our coverage of the history of the diode.

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