A Chinese professor previously accused of espionage has assisted in the discovery of what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has dubbed the “best semiconductor material ever found.”
MIT professor Gang Chen was among the number of Chinese researchers in U.S. universities who were prosecuted over alleged ties to the Chinese government in recent years. Last year, he was arrested by federal agents but was eventually cleared by the Department of Justice of espionage charges due to a lack of evidence.
Eight months later, he was among the team at MIT, the University of Houston and other research centers that discovered that cubic boron arsenide is better at conducting heat and electricity than silicon.
The material is also reportedly better than silicon at conducting both electrons and its positively charged counterpart, the “electron-hole.” This is a known weakness of silicon, which limits the speed of silicon-based semiconductors.
In a press release, Chain said the new material is a potential “game changer” as it was found to be able to conduct heat 10 times better than silicon.
According to Chen and the team, they are now eyeing the material as a viable alternative to silicon for the next generation of electronic products. They noted, however, that further research and testing are required to purify the material and establish its long-term stability.
The researchers also said they would need special equipment to further study its properties.
The discovery is a significant one for the U.S., which has been trying to boost its technological competitiveness against China. Last month, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed the “Chips and Science Bill,” a $280 billion measure that aims to help the U.S. compete against China in domestic chip manufacturing.
Chen, who was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2000, was accused of failing to disclose ties to Chinese institutions on grant applications to the Department of Energy. Prior to the dismissal of the charges against him, he gained the support of the scientific community, including over 170 colleagues who rallied behind him.
The scientists who criticized the arrest explained that such investigations could deny the U.S. potentially important discoveries by scaring academics, especially those in China, from moving to the U.S.