The Single-Atom Transistor Explained

Monday, January 7, 2013

Single Atom Transistor

In a great lecture on the future of electronics, Gerhard Klimeck defines how nanoelectronics has reached the point that physically limitations are being reached.
Gerhard Klimeck is The Director of nanoHUB, the Network for Computational Nanotechnology at Purdue University and a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he formerly supervised technical projects for NASA's Applied Cluster Computing Technologies Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Klimeck is currently working on projects focusing on the network for computational nanotechnology, center of excellence in computational nanoscience, NASA/Purdue/Indiana Partnership for Nanoelectronics Request for a 21st Century R&T, and atomistic modeling of nanoelectronic transport.

Below in an incredibly clear lecture, Klimeck explains the development of the single atom transistor and what it all means for the future of electronics.

Anyone interested in presenting technical information to a wide audience in an informative yet captivating manner should watch the lecture.

According to Klimeck, unless particle physicists can uncover more information about mass and how to control it, the work on the single-atom transistor represents the physical limit of Moore's Law.

"To me, this is the physical limit of Moore's Law," Klimeck says. "We can't make [the transistor] smaller than this."

Simply stated Moore's Law holds that the number of transistors that can be placed on a processor will double approximately every 18 months. The latest Intel chip, the "Ivy Bridge," uses a manufacturing process to place transistors 22 nanometers apart. A single phosphorus atom, by comparison, is just 0.1 nanometers across, which would significantly reduce the size of processors made using this technique, although it may be many years before single-atom processors actually are manufactured.

The single-atom transistor does have a very serious limitation: It must be kept very cold, at least as cold as liquid nitrogen, or minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 196 Celsius).  According to Kimeck, this severely limits the scalability of the technology.

"The atom sits in a well or channel, and for it to operate as a transistor the electrons must stay in that channel," Klimeck says. "At higher temperatures, the electrons move more and go outside of the channel. For this atom to act like a metal you have to contain the electrons to the channel.

"If someone develops a technique to contain the electrons, this technique could be used to build a computer that would work at room temperature. But this is a fundamental question for this technology."

"When I established this program 10 years ago, many people thought it was impossible with too many technical hurdles. However, on reading into the literature I could not see any practical reason why it would not be possible," Simmons says. "Brute determination and systemic studies were necessary -- as well as having many outstanding students and postdoctoral researchers who have worked on the project."

SOURCE  nanoHub, Purdue University

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