Scientists have taken an early step toward surpassing the limits of a technological principle called Moore’s Law by creating a working transistor using a single phosphorus atom.
The atom was etched into a silicon bed with “gates” to control electrical flow and metallic contacts to apply voltage, researchers reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. It is the first such device to be precisely positioned using a repeatable technology, they said, and may one day help ease the way toward creation of a so-called quantum computer that would be significantly smaller and faster than existing technology.
Moore’s law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months to two years, and it’s predicted to reach its limit with existing technology in 2020. Cutting the size of a transistor to a single atom may defeat that concept.
“We really decided 10 years ago to start this program to try and make single-atom devices as fast as we could, and beat that law,” said Michelle Simmons, director of ARC Center for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the University of New South Wales, Australia. “So here we are in 2012, and we’ve made a single-atom transistor roughly 8 to 10 years ahead of where the industry is going to be.”
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