Building a Molecular Computer Chip

Feb 13, 2007

For Dr. Jerry Bernholc, a trip to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is like a suburbanite’s trek to Costco. Bulk consumption is the name of the game.

Bernholc, the Drexel Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, spends more hours conducting research on supercomputers each year than all but a handful of U.S. scientists. Using the powerful computers – like ORNL’s -- to crunch numbers is the only way to get results for the complex calculations he uses to study molecules.

Building a Molecular Computer Chip
Bernholc´s research has shown that a benzine molecule, in blue, can act as a very fast switch in a transistor when conected to silicon leads, in red. Illustration courtesy of Dr. Jerry Bernholc.

Bernholc is trying to keep intact one of technology’s great streaks—Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, the co-founder of semiconductor giant Intel, predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors the industry would be able to fit onto a computer chip would double every 18 months. The prediction has become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry, which continually delivers more powerful chips. But upholding Moore’s Law for 40 years has pushed the industry to the brink of running out of space on computer chips.

“The limits of standard silicon technology are coming into play,” Bernholc says. “Beyond 2011 or 2012, the industry has some ideas for future growth, but it has no roadmap to get there.”

So Bernholc is pointing the industry in the direction of molecular technology. His computer simulations have demonstrated that many small molecules exhibit a property known as negative differential resistance. As voltage is increased, the current flowing through molecules drops, Bernholc says, meaning they can be used as switches. Previously, scientists thought negative differential resistance was limited to just a few molecules.

“Designers can focus on processing semiconductors instead of trying to arrange specific molecules, which is difficult at the nanoscale level,” he says. Bernholc also is working with a scientist from his native Poland on “spin electronics”—understanding and devising materials where the spin of electrons is used to control the flow of electricity.

ORNL, where Bernholc holds the title of Visiting Distinguished Scientist, already has one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, but is looking for a system a hundred times more powerful. Bernholc’s research might play a role in developing such a system.

“I’m looking at faster transistors, which could produce faster computers, which would then allow me to do simulations on even faster transistors,” he says with a laugh. “It could be an endless loop, but much more study is needed to understand molecular electronics before we can actually produce these transistors.”

For more information, please visit chips.ncsu.edu/~bernholc/

Source: NC State University

Explore further: How cloud chambers revealed subatomic particles

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Big new iPhone brings Apple more profit

1 hour ago

Apple's largest iPhone is selling for $100 more than its other new model, but a new report says it costs Apple only $15.50 more to make the more expensive version.

Being sheepish about climate adaptation

1 hour ago

For thousands of years, man has domesticated animals, selecting the best traits possible for survival. Now, livestock such as sheep offer an intriguing animal to examine adaptation to climate change, with a genetic legacy ...

Microsoft to launch Xbox One in China in days

3 hours ago

US technology giant Microsoft will launch its Xbox One in China on September 29, becoming the first game console to enter the market in 14 years, it said Tuesday, in an apparent reversal of a delay announced ...

Recommended for you

How cloud chambers revealed subatomic particles

9 hours ago

Atoms are made of electrons, protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are in turn made up of quarks. These are just some of the elementary particles that make up the foundation of modern particle physics. ...

When a doughnut becomes an apple

10 hours ago

In experiments using the wonder material graphene, ETH researchers have been able to demonstrate a phenomenon predicted by a Russian physicist more than 50 years ago. They analyzed a layer structure that ...

Uncovering the forbidden side of molecules

Sep 21, 2014

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have succeeded in observing the "forbidden" infrared spectrum of a charged molecule for the first time. These extremely weak spectra offer perspectives ...

User comments : 0