A Filipina physicist at Washington State University (WSU) has found a way to dramatically improve conductivity in a crystal “400-fold” by simply exposing it to light—a discovery that has possible implications for future computers, particularly memory devices.
Dr. Marianne Tarun, a postdoctoral research associate at WSU’s Physics and Astronomy Department, made the serendipitous discovery when she left a sample of strontium titanate—a crystal used in jewelry and some electronic components—out on a table counter before testing it for conductivity.
To her surprise, exposure to room light had made the crystal up to 40,000% more conductive for days after exposure. The effect has since been called “persistent photoconductivity”.
“It came by accident, it’s not something we expected. That makes it very exciting to share,” Tarun was quoted as saying in a WSU press release.
“We initially thought that (it) was due to impurities or chemical contamination,” she added.
“No one has ever seen such (an effect) due to exposure to light at room temperature, which is important because all practical eletronic devices work at room temperature,” said WSU physics professor Dr. Matthew McCluskey.
A separate article on Gizmodo noted that Tarun’s discovery paves the way for devices that might otherwise only be possible with superconductors that require refrigeration.
“It’s nowhere near the level of electrical throughput of what super-conducting materials can achieve. However, it does hold a great deal of practical potential. For one, the effect works at room temperature unlike superconductors which only function at a fraction of a degree from absolute zero,” Gizmodo said.
“In standard computer memory, information is stored on the surface of a computer chip or hard drive. A device using persistent photoconductivity, however, could store information throughout the entire volume of a crystal,” McCluskey explained.— GMA News
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