Gallium nitride is the silicon of the future

Last week, Anker debuted a tiny new power brick, crediting its small size with the component it uses instead of silicon: gallium nitride (GaN). It’s the latest example of the growing popularity of this transparent, glass-like material that could one day unseat silicon and cut energy use worldwide.

For decades now, silicon has been the backbone of the technology industry, but we are “reaching a theoretical limit on how much it can be improved,” says Danqing Wang, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University who conducts GaN research. All materials have a “band gap,” which is related to how well they can conduct electricity. GaN has a wider band gap than silicon, which means it can sustain higher voltages than silicon can survive, and the…

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