Chinese scientists say they have created a transistor that will increase the performance of microchips exponentially and dramatically reduce their energy use. The most advanced computer chips on the market today use seven-nanometre transistors. Professor Yin Huaxiang said his team had developed 3nm transistors – about the width of a human DNA strand – and that tens of billions of them could fit on a fingernail-size chip. The smaller transistors become, the more can be fitted onto chips, increasing the performance of a processor exponentially, said Yin, deputy director of microelectronics device and integrated technology at the Institute of Microelectronics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Transistors are the building blocks of processors. Those built with 3nm transistors would increase computing speed and cut energy consumption, Yin said. So, a smartphone user, for instance, could play games that demanded lots of computing power all day without the need to recharge batteries. The Chinese team, whose research was published in part in peer-reviewed journal IEEE Electron Device Letters this month, had to overcome major obstacles, Yin said. One was the Boltzmann Tyranny, 19th century Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann’s description of a problem involving the distribution of electrons in a space. For chip developers, this meant that as more and smaller transistors went into microchips, the heat generated by the electricity the transistors needed would burn the chip. Physicists have proposed solutions to this problem. Yin’s team, using a method known as negative capacitance, was able to power transistors by using half the theoretical minimum amount of electricity required, he said. China offers five-year tax breaks to chip makers, software developers to bolster industry as trade war stretches to tech Commercialisation could take a few years as the team worked on materials and quality control. “This is the most exciting part of our work. It is not just another new finding in a laboratory. It has a high potential for real, serious applications,” Yin said. “And we have the patent.” The breakthrough would put China into a “head-on competition with the world’s top players at the very front line of chip development”, Yin said. “In the past, we were watching others fight. Now we are fighting the others.” In Beijing, a Tsinghua University professor who studied future chip technology said China’s development was rapidly catching up with Western countries as a result of the trade tariffs war being fought out by Beijing and Washington. “A gap remains, [and] it is unlikely to close overnight with a single breakthrough,” said the academic who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the work. While there are transistors about the size of an atom – half a nanometre – in development in China, other countries have joined the race to bring 3nm transistors to market. Samsung in South Korea said it planned to complete the development of a 3nm transistor by the first half of next year. Compared to 7-nm technology, Samsung said a processor built with its 3-nm transistors would use half as much power to achieve a 35 per cent higher performance. The company did not say when it expected those chips to enter production.