Atomic discovery opens door to greener, faster, smaller electronic circuitry

July 26, 2017, University of Alberta
UAlberta physicist Robert Wolkow and his team have unlocked the potential for greener, faster, smaller electronic circuitry. Credit: John Ulan for UAlberta

A key step in unlocking the potential for greener, faster, smaller electronic circuitry was taken recently by a group of researchers led by UAlberta physicist Robert Wolkow.

The research team found a way to delete and replace out-of-place atoms that had been preventing new revolutionary circuitry designs from working. This unleashes a new kind of chips for used in common electronic products, such as our phones and computers.

"For the first time, we can unleash the powerful properties inherent to the atomic scale," explained Wolkow, noting that printing errors on silicon chips are inevitable when working at the . "We were making things that were close to perfect but not quite there. Now that we have the ability to make corrections, we can ensure perfect patterns, and that makes the circuits work. It is this new ability to edit at the atom scale that makes all the difference."

Think of a typing mistake and the ability to go back and white it out and type it again perfectly. Now imagine that the white out is actually single hydrogen atoms, allowing a level of precision previously unattainable.

"We can precisely erase any errors and reprint that atom in the correct place. It's not even a compromise like white out where you either have a gooey layer or indentation. It's actually perfect," said Wolkow, who worked with fellow scientists from the University of Alberta, the National Research Council, and Quantum Silicon Inc.

Scientists have seen many hints that atomic circuitry was within reach. However, the necessary precision was previously possible only for simple materials that had to be maintained at ultra-low temperatures, impractical for everyday applications demanded in computers and personal digital devices. Wolkow and his team have discovered methods and material to ensure stability at room temperature, challenges that he and other scientists the world over have been working for decades on overcoming.

Wolkow's graduate students Roshan Achal and Taleana Huff together with postdoc Moe Rashidi showed they can overcome these obstacles with a modified approach to the same that are used in today's circuitry. While they had previously improved accuracy of atomic silicon printing, errors in the form of misplaced atoms always occurred at the one percent level. Though the placement errors were small—about one third of a nanometer—they nevertheless large enough to upset circuit operation.

The students created a reliable procedure for picking up single hydrogen atoms with their atomically sharp probe and replacing one or more hydrogen to perfectly erase atomic misprints.

With their new discovery, many remaining challenges to ultra-low power atomic have also been erased. Wolkow, Achal, and Huff's discovery has been captured in the academic paper "Atomic Whiteout," appearing in the scientific journal ACS Nano.

Explore further: The ultimate green technology: Creating computers that use 10,000 times less energy

More information: Taleana R. Huff et al, Atomic White-Out: Enabling Atomic Circuitry through Mechanically Induced Bonding of Single Hydrogen Atoms to a Silicon Surface, ACS Nano (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b04238

Related Stories

Single Atom Quantum Dots Bring Real Devices Closer (Video)

January 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Single atom quantum dots created by researchers at Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology and the University of Alberta make possible a new level of control over individual electrons, a development ...

Hands-off approach to silicon chips

July 3, 2017

The possibility of looking inside silicon chips to see their tiny working parts, without damaging the chips, is a step closer thanks to an international team led by scientists at the LCN.

Recommended for you

Optical nanoscope images quantum dots

January 23, 2018

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together ...

Quantum dot ring lasers emit colored light

January 22, 2018

Researchers have designed a new type of laser called a quantum dot ring laser that emits red, orange, and green light. The different colors are emitted from different parts of the quantum dot—red from the core, green from ...

0 comments

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.