Vacuum tubes in the news

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What was old is now new again - from IEEE Spectrum:

Introducing the Vacuum Transistor: A Device Made of Nothing
In September 1976, in the midst of the Cold War, Victor Ivanovich Belenko, a disgruntled Soviet pilot, veered off course from a training flight over Siberia in his MiG-25 Foxbat, flew low and fast across the Sea of Japan, and landed the plane at a civilian airport in Hokkaido with just 30 seconds of fuel remaining. His dramatic defection was a boon for U.S. military analysts, who for the first time had an opportunity to examine up close this high-speed Soviet fighter, which they had thought to be one of the world’s most capable aircraft. What they discovered astonished them.

For one thing, the airframe was more crudely built than those of contemporary U.S. fighters, being made mostly of steel rather than titanium. What’s more, they found the plane’s avionics bays to be filled with equipment based on vacuum tubes rather than transistors. The obvious conclusion, previous fears aside, was that even the Soviet Union’s most cutting-edge technology lagged laughably behind the West’s.

After all, in the United States vacuum tubes had given way to smaller and less power-hungry solid-state devices two decades earlier, not long after William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain cobbled together the first transistor at Bell Laboratories in 1947. By the mid-1970s, the only vacuum tubes you could find in Western electronics were hidden away in certain kinds of specialized equipment—not counting the ubiquitous picture tubes of television sets. Today even those are gone, and outside of a few niches, vacuum tubes are an extinct technology. So it might come as a surprise to learn that some very modest changes to the fabrication techniques now used to build integrated circuits could yet breathe vacuum electronics back to life.

A bit more:

Although we are still at an early stage with our research, we believe the recent improvements we’ve made to the vacuum-channel transistor could one day have a huge influence on the electronics industry, particularly for applications where speed is paramount. Our very first effort to fashion a prototype produced a device that could operate at 460 gigahertz—roughly 10 times as fast as the best silicon transistor can manage. This makes the vacuum-channel transistor very promising for operating in what is sometimes known as the terahertz gap, the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum above microwaves and below infrared.

This is really big - the best we can do with silicon is about 40 Gigahertz (40,000,000,000) - to have a device operating at 460 GHz is a major breakthrough. This graphic from the article shows what we are dealing with:

20140624-terahertz.jpg

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on June 24, 2014 10:25 AM.

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