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If a silicon chip was used as a spacecraft, it can theoretically travel at one-fifth the speed of light. At that rate, the chip will reach our closest neighboring stars in 20 years instead of 40.

But while travel time may be cut in half, it’s still going to be a long trip through the harsh and unpredictable vastness of space. Aside from extreme changes in temperature, the silicon chip also has to bear enormous amounts of radiation which is bound to eventually cause device deterioration and degraded performance.

According to Yang-Kyu Choi, the team leader of KAIST, the most critical damage has to do with the current that leaks as the transistor is turned off, and the change in the voltage needed to turn the transistor back on.

To minimize chip damage, the feasible solution is either to choose the path with the least exposure to radiation, or fortify the chip’s protection through better shielding. If the first solution is chosen, it will mean extended travel time and shorter exploration period. Plus, it does not necessarily mean that degradation will not happen during the trip. If the second option is chosen, the chip will become too heavy that it will just defeat the very purpose of sending in a smaller and ideally a lighter space craft. In other words, because it will become heavier, it will travel slower.

Now there’s a third solution: a self-healing silicon chip. For this option, the spacecraft will travel the shortest route and absorb all the radiation it is exposed to. But instead of getting irreversible damage, it will have an extra layer of coating that will facilitate device repair through heating. Hopefully, this can be made possible through KAIST’s nanowire transistor.

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