Almost Making A Camera Sensor From Scratch

On our travels round the hardware world we’ve encountered more than one group pursuing the goal of making their own silicon integrated circuits, and indeed we’ve seen [Sam Zeloof] producing some of the first practical home-made devices. But silicon is simply one of many different semiconductor materials, and it’s possible to make working semiconductor devices in a less complex lab using some of the others. As an example, [Breaking Taps] has been working with copper (II) oxide, producing photodiodes, and coming within touching distance of a working matrix array.

The video below the break is a comprehensive primer on simple semiconductor production and the challenges of producing copper (II) oxide rather than the lower temperature copper (I) oxide. The devices made have a Schottky junction between the semiconductor and an aluminium conductor, and after some concerns about whether the silicon substrate is part of the circuit and even some spectacular destruction of devices, he has a working photodiode with a satisfying change on the curve tracer when light is applied. The finale is an array of the devices to form a rudimentary camera sensor, but sadly due to alignment issues it’s not quite there  yet. We look forward to seeing it when he solves those problems.

As we’ve seen before, copper oxide isn’t the only semiconductor material outside the silicon envelope.

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Shuji Nakamura: The Man Who Gave Us The Blue LED Despite All Odds

With the invention of the first LED featuring a red color, it seemed only a matter of time before LEDs would appear with other colors. Indeed, soon green and other colors joined the LED revolution, but not blue. Although some dim prototypes existed, none of them were practical enough to be considered for commercialization. The subject of a recent [Veritasium] video, the core of the problem was that finding a material with the right bandgap and other desirable properties remained elusive. It was in this situation that at the tail end of the 1980s a young engineer at Nichia in Japan found himself pursuing a solution to this conundrum.

Although Nichia was struggling at the time due to the competition in the semiconductor market, its president was not afraid to take a gamble on a promise, which is why this young engineer – [Shuji Nakamura] – got permission to try his wits at the problem. This included a year long study trip to Florida to learn the ins and outs of a new technology called metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD, also metalorganic vapor-phase epitaxy). Once back in Japan, he got access to a new MOCVD machine at Nichia, which he quickly got around to heavily modifying into the now well-known two-flow reactor version which improves the yield.

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The Geometry Of Transistors

Building things in a lab is easy, at least when compared to scaling up for mass production. That’s why there are so many articles about fusion being right around the corner, or battery technology that’ll allow aviation to switch away from fossil fuels, or any number of other miraculous solutions that never come into being. They simply don’t scale or can’t be manufactured in a cost effective way. But even when they are miraculous and can be produced on a massive scale, as is the case for things like transistors, there are some oddities that come up as a result of the process of making so many. This video goes into some of the intricacies of a bipolar junction transistor (BJT) and why it looks the way it does.

The BJT in this video is a fairly standard NPN type, with three layers of silicon acting as emitter, base, and collector. Typically when learning about electronics devices the drawings of them are simplified two-dimensional block diagrams, but under a microscope this transistor at first appears nothing like the models shown in the textbook. Instead it resembles more of a bird’s foot with a few small wires attached. The bird’s foot shape is a result of attempting to lower the undesirable resistances of the device and improve its performance, and some of its other quirks are due to the manufacturing process. That process starts with a much larger layer of doped silicon that will eventually become the collector, and then the other two, much smaller, layers of the transistor deposited on top of the collector. This also explains while it looks like there are only two layers upon first glance, and also shows that the horizontal diagram used to model the device is actually positioned vertically in the real world.

For most of the processes in our daily lives, the transistor has largely been abstracted away. We don’t have to think about them in a computer that much anymore, and unless work is being done on high-wattage power electronics devices, radios, or audio amplifiers it’s not likely that an average person will run into a transistor. But this video goes a long way to explaining the basics of one of the fundamental building blocks of the modern world for those willing to take a dive into the physics. Take a look at this video as well for an intuitive explanation of the close cousin of the BJT, the field-effect transistor.

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MOSFETs — The Hidden Gate

How many terminals does a MOSFET have? Trick question since most have three leads, even though there are really four connections to the underlying device. It isn’t a conspiracy, though and [Aaron Lanterman] talks about how MOSFETs really work and why thinking of them as three-terminal devices can lead you astray in a recent video that you can watch below.

Like many people, [Aaron] points out the parallel between a triode vacuum tube and a MOSFET. That’s not surprising, since a solid-state tube was exactly what they were looking for when they developed the FET. Since tubes and FETs are both voltage controllers, it is easy to think of the gate as the grid, the source as the cathode, and the drain as the plate. But, [Aaron] shows this isn’t really a very accurate picture.

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Fastest Semiconductor May Also Be Most Expensive

Scientists have found what they think may be the fastest known semiconductor. Sounds great, right? But it happens to made from one of the rarest elements: rhenium. That rare element combines with selenium and chlorine to form a “superatom.” Unlike conventional semiconductor material, the superatom causes phonons to bind together and resist scattering. This should allow materials that can process signals in femtoseconds,

Rhenium was the last stable element to be found in 1925. It is primarily used in combination with nickel in parts of jet engines, although it is also known as a catalyst for certain reactions. It is very rare and has a high melting point, exceeded only by tungsten and carbon. When it was discovered, scientists extracted a single gram of the material by processing 660 kg of molybdenite. Because of its rarity, it is expensive, costing anywhere from $2,800 to $10,600 per kilogram.

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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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