Silicon is generally the material of choice in the electronics industry. Yet transistors, the switchable valves that control the flow of electrons in a circuit, cannot simply keep shrinking to meet the needs of powerful, compact devices. Physical limitations like energy consumption and heat dissipation are too significant. Now, using a quantum material called a correlated oxide, a team of researchers at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, have achieved a reversible change in electrical resistance of eight orders of magnitude, a result the researchers are calling “colossal.” In short, they have engineered this material to perform comparably with the best silicon switches.

Because correlated oxides can function equally well at room temperature or a few hundred degrees above it, the engineers say that it would be easy to integrate them into existing electronic devices and fabrication methods. Their discovery, they say, establishes correlated oxides as promising semiconductors for future three-dimensional integrated circuits as well as for adaptive, tunable photonic devices.

The team has crafted a new transistor, made primarily of an oxide called samarium nickelate, that in practical operation achieves an on/off ratio that is comparable to state-of-the-art silicon transistors. In future work, the researchers will investigate the device’s switching dynamics and power dissipation.