Vanadium dioxide’s unique properties make it ideally suited for outperforming silicon and giving rise to a new generation of low-power electronic devices. This compound can be used to create programmable radio-frequency electronic functions for aerospace communication systems, neuromorphic computing, and artificial intelligence.

Vanadium dioxide can be used as a replacement for silicon in ultra-low-power electronic devices. (©Jamani Caillet/EPFL)

A key characteristic of vanadium dioxide (VO2) is that it behaves as an insulator at room temperature, but as a conductor at temperatures above 68 °C. This behavior — also known as metal-insulator transition — is being studied.

Scientists have long known about the electronic properties of VO2, but haven’t been able to explain them until now. Its atomic structure changes as the temperature rises, transitioning from a crystalline structure at room temperature to a metallic one at temperatures above 68 °C. This transition happens in less than a nanosecond — an advantage for electronics applications. VO2 is also sensitive to other factors that could cause it to change phases, such as by injecting electrical power, optically, or by applying a THz radiation pulse.

Unlocking the full potential of VO2 has always been difficult because its transition temperature of 68 °C is too low for modern electronic devices, where circuits must be able to run flawlessly at 100 °C. But adding germanium to VO2 film can lift the material’s phase change temperature to over 100 °C.

In addition, scientists were able to make ultra-compact, modular-frequency filters. The technology also uses VO2 and phase-change switches, and is effective in the frequency range crucial for space communications systems (the Ka band, with programmable frequency modulation between 28.2 and 35 GHz).

For more information, contact Gabriel Clerc, Technology Transfer Office Chief, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; +41 (0)21 693 3582.

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.