Weixiao Huang, a 2008 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., has invented an alternative to the silicon chip — a transistor that uses a material called gallium nitride (GaN), which is said to have extraordinary properties. The new transistor could reduce power consumption and improve efficiency of power electronics systems in everything from motor drives and hybrid vehicles to home appliances and defense equipment.

“Silicon has been the workhorse in the semiconductor industry for the last two decades,” says Huang. “But as power electronics get more sophisticated and require higher performing transistors, engineers have been seeking an alternative like gallium nitride-based transistors that can perform better than silicon and in extreme conditions.”

Huang first developed a new process that forms an excellent GaN MOS (metal/oxide/GaN) interface. Engineers have known that GaN and other gallium-based materials have good electrical properties, much better than silicon. However, no useful GaN MOS transistor had ever been developed.

Huang has also designed and experimentally demonstrated several high-voltage MOS-gated FETs, which have significantly lower power consumption, smaller chip size, and higher power density than silicon MOSFETs. The son of farmers in rural China, he received a bachelor's degree in electronics from Peking University in Beijing in 2001, and a master's in physics from Rensselaer in 2003. He received his doctorate May 17 and plans to work as a device engineer in the semiconductor industry.