What is Gallium Arsenide?


May 11, 2015

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Silicon has been a very reliable semiconducting material for many computerized and digital applications through the last 50 years. There are many great benefits to using silicon, not the least of which is that it is relatively inexpensive because it is so abundant, and its pliability as a base for semiconducting wafers for circuits.However, those who have been in the tech world know that there is another material that does equally well or in some cases better than silicon for many current applications, and that is the compound called gallium arsenide (GaAs).

About Gallium Arsenide

Gallium arsenide is a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic. Arsenic is very common, while gallium is rarer than gold and is more commonly derived as a by-product of melting other metals like aluminum or zinc. It has properties that have made it a very popular semiconducting material, though it is quite expensive and thus is not yet commonly used in electronics.

Uses of Gallium Arsenide

Gallium arsenide, in a world of faster and faster computing, can be a huge advantage over silicon because as a substrate, it allows electrons to move up to five times faster than those on a silicon substrate. This means that gallium arsenide can be more efficient in electricity use and is great for fast-switching applications. Gallium arsenide has great heat and radiation resistance, so it has powerful uses in military applications, in solar cells and in space. And when the compound is doped with certain other elements, it can give off light, which makes it a great material for LEDs and LED devices.

The Big Drawback

As with most electronics, cost is a big factor in manufacturing. And while gallium arsenide is a better semiconductor than silicon inn many if not all ways, it has always been very expensive to produce in large quantities, so its uses commercially have been very limited.However, a few years ago some researchers developed a method of creating gallium arsenide layers of thin film directly from a wafer of GaAs and depositing the layer directly onto a cheaper substrate like silicon. The idea is that the great semiconducting ability of GaAs can be established more inexpensively with a thin layer on top of silicon. It has not evolved into major commercial use as of yet, but engineers say there is tremendous potential for this to be used in solar panels, which could greatly improve the efficiency of the panels and thus make them cheaper to use in the long run.