Computing in a molecule

Dec 19, 2008
Computing in a molecule

(PhysOrg.com) -- Over the last 60 years, ever-smaller generations of transistors have driven exponential growth in computing power. Could molecules, each turned into miniscule computer components, trigger even greater growth in computing over the next 60?

Atomic-scale computing, in which computer processes are carried out in a single molecule or using a surface atomic-scale circuit, holds vast promise for the microelectronics industry. It allows computers to continue to increase in processing power through the development of components in the nano- and pico scale. In theory, atomic-scale computing could put computers more powerful than today’s supercomputers in everyone’s pocket.

“Atomic-scale computing researchers today are in much the same position as transistor inventors were before 1947. No one knows where this will lead,” says Christian Joachim of the French National Scientific Research Centre’s (CNRS) Centre for Material Elaboration & Structural Studies (CEMES) in Toulouse, France.

Joachim, the head of the CEMES Nanoscience and Picotechnology Group (GNS), is currently coordinating a team of researchers from 15 academic and industrial research institutes in Europe whose groundbreaking work on developing a molecular replacement for transistors has brought the vision of atomic-scale computing a step closer to reality. Their efforts, a continuation of work that began in the 1990s, are today being funded by the European Union in the Pico-Inside project.

In a conventional microprocessor – the “motor” of a modern computer – transistors are the essential building blocks of digital circuits, creating logic gates that process true or false signals. A few transistors are needed to create a single logic gate and modern microprocessors contain billions of them, each measuring around 100 nanometres.

Transistors have continued to shrink in size since Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore famously predicted in 1965 that the number that can be placed on a processor would double roughly every two years. But there will inevitably come a time when the laws of quantum physics prevent any further shrinkage using conventional methods. That is where atomic-scale computing comes into play with a fundamentally different approach to the problem.

“Nanotechnology is about taking something and shrinking it to its smallest possible scale. It’s a top-down approach,” Joachim says. He and the Pico-Inside team are turning that upside down, starting from the atom, the molecule, and exploring if such a tiny bit of matter can be a logic gate, memory source, or more. “It is a bottom-up or, as we call it, 'bottom-bottom' approach because we do not want to reach the material scale,” he explains.

Joachim’s team has focused on taking one individual molecule and building up computer components, with the ultimate goal of hosting a logic gate in a single molecule.

How many atoms to build a computer?

“The question we have asked ourselves is how many atoms does it take to build a computer?” Joachim says. “That is something we cannot answer at present, but we are getting a better idea about it.”

The team has managed to design a simple logic gate with 30 atoms that perform the same task as 14 transistors, while also exploring the architecture, technology and chemistry needed to achieve computing inside a single molecule and to interconnect molecules.

They are focusing on two architectures: one that mimics the classical design of a logic gate but in atomic form, including nodes, loops, meshes etc., and another, more complex, process that relies on changes to the molecule’s conformation to carry out the logic gate inputs and quantum mechanics to perform the computation.

The logic gates are interconnected using scanning-tunnelling microscopes and atomic-force microscopes – devices that can measure and move individual atoms with resolutions down to 1/100 of a nanometre (that is one hundred millionth of a millimetre!). As a side project, partly for fun but partly to stimulate new lines of research, Joachim and his team have used the technique to build tiny nano-machines, such as wheels, gears, motors and nano-vehicles each consisting of a single molecule.

“Put logic gates on it and it could decide where to go,” Joachim notes, pointing to what would be one of the world’s first implementations of atomic-scale robotics.

The importance of the Pico-Inside team’s work has been widely recognised in the scientific community, though Joachim cautions that it is still very much fundamental research. It will be some time before commercial applications emerge from it. However, emerge they all but certainly will.

“Microelectronics needs us if logic gates – and as a consequence microprocessors – are to continue to get smaller,” Joachim says.

The Pico-Inside researchers, who received funding under the ICT strand of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme, are currently drafting a roadmap to ensure computing power continues to increase in the future.

Provided by ICT Results

Explore further: Engineers discover new method to determine surface properties at the nanoscale

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Laser pulse turns glass into a metal

Aug 26, 2014

For tiny fractions of a second, quartz glass can take on metallic properties, when it is illuminated be a laser pulse. This has been shown by calculations at the Vienna University of Technology. The effect ...

THESEUS - tool for internet services

Mar 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The improved use and exploitation of digital knowledge - that is the aim of the THESEUS Project. In the future semantic technologies will be able to recognise the meaning of information content. Fraunhofer ...

Recommended for you

New 2-D quantum materials for nanoelectronics

Nov 21, 2014

Researchers at MIT say they have carried out a theoretical analysis showing that a family of two-dimensional materials exhibits exotic quantum properties that may enable a new type of nanoscale electronics.

Thin film produces new chemistry in 'nanoreactor'

Nov 19, 2014

Physicists of the University of Groningen and the FOM Foundation, led by professor Beatriz Noheda, have discovered a new manganese compound that is produced by tension in the crystal structure of terbium manganese oxide. ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tkjtkj
3 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2008
i'll wait for the introduction of
string-based circuitry .. Atoms just take up too much space ...
abadaba
not rated yet Dec 19, 2008
what do you mean?
albert
not rated yet Dec 19, 2008
Atoms, in my understanding, have both wave and particle characteristics. The secret, it seems to me, is harnessing and controlling the electrical charge of the atom. However, "hole flow" becomes a problem due to the opposite current hidden within the manifest current. This is a "mystery" of electricity that has never been explained or measured. Thus, current is bi-directional and not unidirectional, i.e. electrons propagating in one direction, while the unmeasurable "holes" moving in the opposite direction. It seems to me that this is the mystery which needs to be revealed if the charge of one single atom is to be controlled, because an atom is neither a wave nor a particle.
NeilFarbstein
not rated yet Jan 11, 2009
Dr. Thomas Netzel, a former Chairman of the American Chemical Society wrote a technical review of Vulvox's DNA transistor concept, and stated that it will likely change the world in innumerable ways when three dimensional chips containing millions of times as many transistors as those in current chips show up in robots and speech translators that really understand English and in self driving and self navigating cars. They will be constructed from DNA and modified DNA made on solid phase synthesizers or by Vulvox's proprietary DNA synthesis process. That process can make DNA for nanoelectronics at a production cost hundreds of times less expensive than current methods. Vulvox has been a leader in this field. The same process can be used to manufacture DNA for gene therapy RNA for silencer RNA gene therapy.

DNA has been used to grow and assemble ZnO nanowires for piezo-electric sensors and to generate electricity from vibrations. Vulvox DNA made with our proprietary process might also be in big demand for DNA nanolithography, as a shadow mask to manufacture 2nm wide nanoelectronic circuitry. (click here for details) To view details on constructing DNA circuitry and nanochips, click the above picture. Dr. Netzel's technical review is available on request.
http://vulvox.tripod.com
protn7@att.net













Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.