Vacuum tubes could revolutionize computer chips?

No, I’m fairly sure I haven’t lost my mind … that really is the right headline.

According to a resent paper published in the American Institute of Physics, nanoscale vacuum “tubes” manufactured using conventional chip making techniques have operated at frequencies as high as .46 THz.

Dr. Meyya Meyyappan, Director at the Center for Nanotechnology at the NASA Ames Research Center, has highlighted the advantages of nanoscale vacuum devices which include resistance to hard radiation and significantly improved operating frequencies.

The increased operating frequency comes about because of the speed at which electrons travel through different materials. The speed of electron travel through silicon is comparatively slow, through graphine it is approximately 100 times faster and through a vacuum it approaches the speed of light.

While the cavity is not technically a vacuum it contains so few atoms of any other material, such as oxygen, it is functionally the same. This also gives the vacuum nanoscale device an advantage in space where hard radiation can disrupt an electron’s travel through silicon leading to errors or sometimes permanent failure.

Dr Meyyappan estimates that vacuum nanoscale components will run ten times faster than the best conventional silicon chips and who knows what advances the future will hold. Faster chips will aid in signal processing and more capable software defined radios.

Do you want to monitor every CW & PSK31 transmission on the 40M band at once? With a vacuum “tube” rig you may be able to!

Owen Morgan, KF5CZO, is a regular contributor to and writes from Texas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

3 Responses to “Vacuum tubes could revolutionize computer chips?”

  • Omer Fournier AD7DY:

    Amazing story- Everything ‘old’ is new again!


    Omer, AD7DY

  • Richard Arens KF7VZ:

    As an “Old-Timer” that has been in Electronics since he was a Pup,
    I miss the soft glow of Vacuum tubes. As my late friend, WB6QNJ often lamented
    “real radios glow in the dark” perhaps there are conditions and circumstances where variations of yesteryear’s technology will be of some benefit. I hope so.

  • Beau L.R. KK7MPR:

    Yeah, I find this quite interesting. I’m a tube guy, and it seems funny that modern computer chips could use nano-scale tubes instead of transistors. Funny that a 120-year-old technology could go faster than something so modern!

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