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For science, an electrifying find

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Sept 01,2005
A team led by Kim Hyun-tak, a senior research fellow at the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, announced yesterday that it had succeeded in proving a 56-year-old hypothesis that insulators could be turned into electricity-conducting materials, a potentially significant finding for the electronics industry. For the experiment, Mr. Kim selected vanadium oxide, one of perhaps 100 naturally occurring insulators, named Mott insulators after Sir Nevill F. Mott, the British physicist and Nobel physics laureate who discovered them. He explained that the balance of electrons in the insulator was altered using tiny electrical impulses, turning the insulator into a material that could conduct electricity. However, if the flow of electricity is halted, the material reverts to being an insulator. “Ideas and the concepts of Mr. Kim’s team will doubtless attract many researchers and companies,” said Yasumoto Tanaka, a professor of the University of Tsukuba. “Korea now has a genuine candidate for the Nobel Prize for Physics.” Mr. Kim said Mott insulators could make digital electronics goods smaller and more powerful. “They could be applied to next generation memory semiconductors, photoelectric equipment and next generation display screens,” he explained, “because Mott insulators conduct electricity as much as 100,000 times more efficiently than silicon, currently used to make semiconductors.” Given that silicon cannot conduct electricity if it is too small, semiconductor chips made using Mott insulators could potentially be much smaller than their silicon counterparts. The experiment was published in the “Applied Physics Letter” in June. Mr. Kim said the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute has applied for 16 patents for the application of Mott insulators both in Korea and abroad. “We will concentrate on harnessing the power of Mott insulators for practical uses.” by Lee Hee-sung, Park Sung-ha


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