Electrical currents can be now be switched on and off at the smallest conceivable scale

When it comes to atomic-scale manufacturing, less really is more
Robert Wolkow, University of Alberta physics professor and the Principal Research Officer at Canada's National Institute for Nanotechnology, has developed a technique to switch a single-atom channel. Credit: John Ulan

Robert Wolkow is no stranger to mastering the ultra-small and the ultra-fast. A pioneer in atomic-scale science with a Guinness World Record to boot (for a needle with a single atom at the point), Wolkow's team, together with collaborators at the Max Plank Institute in Hamburg, have just released findings that detail how to create atomic switches for electricity, many times smaller than what is currently used.

What does it all mean? With applications for practical systems like silicon semi-conductor electronics, it means smaller, more efficient, more energy-conserving computers, as just one example of the technology revolution that is unfolding right before our very eyes (if you can squint that hard).

"This is the first time anyone's seen a switching of a single-atom channel," explains Wolkow, a physics professor at the University of Alberta and the Principal Research Officer at Canada's National Institute for Nanotechnology. "You've heard of a transistor—a switch for electricity—well, our switches are almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today."

Today's tiniest transistors operate at the 14 nanometer level, which still represents thousands of atoms. Wolkow's and his team at the University of Alberta, NINT, and his spinoff QSi, have worked the technology down to just a few atoms. Since computers are simply a composition of many on/off switches, the findings point the way not only to ultra-efficient general purpose computing but also to a new path to .

"We're using this technology to make ultra-green, energy-conserving general purpose computers but also to further the development of quantum computers. We are building the most energy conserving electronics ever, consuming about a thousand times less power than today's electronics."

While the new tech is small, the potential societal, economic, and environmental impact of Wolkow's discovery is very large. Today, our electronics consume several percent of the world's electricity. As the size of the energy footprint of the digital economy increases, material and energy conservation is becoming increasingly important.

Wolkow says there are surprising benefits to being smaller, both for normal computers, and, for quantum computers too. "Quantum systems are characterized by their delicate hold on information. They're ever so easily perturbed. Interestingly though, the smaller the system gets, the fewer upsets." Therefore, Wolkow explains, you can create a system that is simultaneously amazingly small, using less material and churning through less energy, while holding onto information just right.

When the new technology is fully developed, it will lead to not only a smaller energy footprint but also more affordable systems for consumers. "It's kind of amazing when everything comes together," says Wolkow.

Wolkow is one of the few people in the world talking about atom-scale manufacturing and believes we are witnessing the beginning of the revolution to come. He and his team have been working with large-scale industry leader Lockheed Martin as the entry point to the market.

"It's something you don't even hear about yet, but atom-scale manufacturing is going to be world-changing. People think it's not quite doable but, but we're already making things out of atoms routinely. We aren't doing it just because. We are doing it because the things we can make have ever more desirable properties. They're not just smaller. They're different and better. This is just the beginning of what will be at least a century of developments in atom-scale manufacturing, and it will be transformational."

"Time Resolved Single Dopant Charge Dynamics in Silicon" appeared in the October 26 edition of Nature Communications, an open-access journal in the group of Nature, world-leading scientific publications.


Explore further

The new atomic age: Building smaller, greener electronics

More information: Mohammad Rashidi et al, Time-resolved single dopant charge dynamics in silicon, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13258
Journal information: Nature Communications

Citation: Electrical currents can be now be switched on and off at the smallest conceivable scale (2016, October 28) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-10-electrical-currents-smallest-scale.html
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Oct 28, 2016
This is pivotal...

Oct 29, 2016
This is the first time anyone's seen a switching of a single-atom channel," explains Wolkow, a physics professor at the University of Alberta and the Principal Research Officer at Canada's National Institute for Nanotechnology. "You've heard of a transistor—a switch for electricity—well, our switches are almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today


The diameter of a single atom of silicon is 0.2 nano-meters. Current discrete NAND memory architecture by leading memory chipmakers is at the 14nm as the distance between the discrete components as stated in the leadin of the article. There must exist a distance between the discrete components (transistors) of a material called the dielectric layer, which for the best chips on today's market is about 3 atoms of silicon in thickness or 0.6 nm, that's a total of 0.8 nm of cell architecture, so, 14nm/0.8nm=17.5 which is not almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today.


Oct 29, 2016
is about 3 atoms of silicon in thickness or 0.6 nm, that's a total of 0.8 nm of cell architecture, so, 14nm/0.8nm=17.5 which is not almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today.

...........the point being that if the dielectric layer is reduced to 2 silicon atoms then you can get 14nm/o.6 nm=23.33 which is still far short of 100 times smaller. If the dielectric layer can be reduced to 1 silicon atom thickness then cell achitecture becomes 14nm/0.4nm=35 times smaller, still not a 100 & the dielectric layer cannot be reduced to zero because the discrete components wouldn't work because they would be short circuited to one another. because 0.2 nm is the diameter of single silicon atom he can't be using 100% silicon to make cell architecture that is 100 times smaller.


Oct 29, 2016
The thing that struck me, was the size of the equipment to show this. Seems kind of ironic.

Seriously, this is great stuff. I thank Dr. Wolkow for his contributions!

Oct 30, 2016
When will all this hit the market? Oh wow!

Oct 30, 2016
@ Bennie-Skippy. How you are Cher? I am good and doing just dandy.

I think you are cyphering up apples and rocks. Is there some reason you think smaller has to mean in the single dimension or could it possibly be 100's smaller in the volume?

Oct 30, 2016
It's something you don't even hear about yet, but atom-scale manufacturing is going to be world-changing

I agree. If you can build something on an atomic scale you can basically build anything - from a computer to a "vegan steak" to a full human to a space station - in one go.

The major problem, though, is the time it would take. Even if one were to massively parallelize this: The amount of layers that must be printed per second to get any noticeable 3D structure in any halfway useful timescale is staggering.

Until someone comes up with a breakthrough in this field atomic printing will remain 'stuck' to mostly 2D applications. (Though those, like atomic scale transistors, are hugely useful to have)

Oct 30, 2016
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Oct 30, 2016
The major problem, though, is the time it would take. Even if one were to massively parallelize this: The amount of layers that must be printed per second to get any noticeable 3D structure
....... "parallelize"? First you need to have the technological background to comprehend what the technology under discussion is about. Stick to where your Biology degree suits you best, it decidedly is not the subject matter under discussion here.


Oct 30, 2016
They didn't develop smaller transistors, they just measured the speed of dopants migration by AFM
The context of the development under discussion here is not about "dopants", it is about memory cell architecture.

Oct 30, 2016
They didn't develop smaller transistors, they just measured the speed of dopants migration by AFM
The context of the development under discussion here is not about "dopants", it is about memory cell architecture.
.......one more thing Shavo would know nothing about, albeit having delayed until Grad School to take a "beginners" in Thermodynamics......and you expect credibility from those of us who not only know what we're talking but who are also doing it as well.


Oct 30, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 30, 2016
The context of the development under discussion here is not about "dopants", it is about memory cell architecture.
At least read the title of the original article. It's not that long and it's definitely shorter than your rants... BTW whole the article doesn't contain single "memory" word. Which stuff are you smoking?


Great exhibition of demonstrating how much you know about NAND Flash Memory & the cell architecture for fabrication of such micro-chips.

I recognized instantly what the author was talking about because I work with these kinds of circuit components everyday, it's part of my job as an Electrical/ Nuclear Engineer.

You don't recognize what Wolkow is doing because your head is immersed in so much aether that the side effects of it has totally saturated the few brain cells that ever existed there. Go back to giving antialias lectures in asstrophysics, you were more entertaining when doing that than being an electronics circuits designer.

Oct 31, 2016
/* Electrical currents can be now be switched on and off at the smallest conceivable scale This is pivotal...*/

They didn't develop smaller transistors, they just measured the speed of dopants migration by AFM. This is theoretical study. You can do a million of such studies, yet no single smaller transistor can be built during it. I can't understand, how the intelligent people her can eat such a journalism.

Zeph,
The article seems to give it more than theoretical status...Gives the impression that they are being produced on a small scale...And the "Read Further" is the only thing bout dopants that I saw...

And for Benni,
Do you talk to your kids like you talk to other people on here?

Oct 31, 2016
And for Benni,
Do you talk to your kids like you talk to other people on here?
..........don't need to talk to them in the manner about which you seem to be complaining, this is because they're smarter than any of you in the Rant Brigade crowd living here who imagine they are bottomless wells of knowledge about pop science, when in fact all they are is a collection of frauds & fakes.


Oct 31, 2016
And for Benni,
Do you talk to your kids like you talk to other people on here?


..........just curious here Whyd, have you ever asked this question of Stumpy, Phys 1, Ira, Scnhneib, Shavera? Or anyone else within that foul mouthed band of bot voters? I ask because you've posed this question to me several times, but I don't recall ever having seen you pose it to the most filthy foul mouthed bunch of bots who show up here as I've just identified.

If you have at anytime in the past directed such a question specifically to any of those I just identified, I challenge you prove it, back up your claim that you have done so, in other words go back through your Posting History and repost it so I can see if your claim is TRUE or FALSE. I know it will be FALSE because I know you have the same mindset as those you will never call out for the same CALL you are making on me.

Nov 02, 2016
maybe try spending some time with the kids Benni instead of trolling web fora

Nov 02, 2016
You are making it up while you are writing it
Do you talk this way to your kids? Whoops, sorry, I forgot, you're..........

Nov 03, 2016
And for Benni,
Do you talk to your kids like you talk to other people on here?


..........just curious here Whyd, have you ever asked this question of Stumpy, Phys 1, Ira, Scnhneib, Shavera? Or anyone else within that foul mouthed band of bot voters? I ask because you've posed this question to me several times, but I don't recall ever having seen you pose it to the most filthy foul mouthed bunch of bots who show up here as I've just identified.

I don't cuz, as you've said, they're a bunch of old codgers - whose kids are grown and gone, so it's no longer relevant - any damage has already been done. You, on the other hand, have an opportunity to be proactive in monitoring , and potentially modifying, your relation methodology...

Nov 03, 2016
And for Benni,
Do you talk to your kids like you talk to other people on here?


..........just curious here Whyd, have you ever asked this question of Stumpy, Phys 1, Ira, Scnhneib, Shavera? Or anyone else within that foul mouthed band of bot voters? I ask because you've posed this question to me several times, but I don't recall ever having seen you pose it to the most filthy foul mouthed bunch of bots who show up here as I've just identified.

I don't cuz, as you've said, they're a bunch of old codgers - whose kids are grown and gone, so it's no longer relevant - any damage has already been done. You, on the other hand, have an opportunity to be proactive in monitoring , and potentially modifying, your relation methodology


.......but my kids aren't filthy foul mouthed relics of human debris.

Nov 03, 2016
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