News24

Tiny wires could usher new computer era

2012-01-06 10:00

Washington - Scientists said on Thursday they have designed tiny wires, 10 000 times thinner than a human hair but with the same electrical capacity as copper, in a major step toward building smaller, more potent computers.

The advance, described in the US journal Science, shows for the first time that wires one atom tall and four atoms wide can carry a charge as well as conventional wires.

That could lead to even tinier electronic devices in the future as well as new steps toward quantum computing, an industry still in its infancy which would create powerful computers that could sift through massive amounts of data faster than current digital computers which use binary code.

"Driven by the semiconductor industry, computer chip components continuously shrink in size allowing ever smaller and more powerful computers," said researcher Michelle Simmons of the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia.

"We are on the threshold of making transistors out of individual atoms. But to build a practical quantum computer we have recognised that the interconnecting wiring and circuitry also needs to shrink to the atomic scale."

Scientists were able to forge atom-sized wires in silicon using a technique called scanning tunnelling microscopy, whereby they placed chains of phosphorus atoms within a silicon crystal.

"This technique not only allows us to image individual atoms but also to manipulate them and place them in position," said researcher Bent Weber, the lead author of the study.

The nano-wires they built this way ranged from 1.5 to 11 nanometres thick.

But even though the circuits were smaller, scientists observed no increased difficulty in coaxing an electric charge through them - what has previously been considered a major obstacle to quantum computing.

In an accompanying Perspective article, David Ferry of the School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University called the findings "good news for the semiconductor industry".

Comments
  • Americo - 2012-01-06 12:03

    I cant see what they are saying

      Majorus - 2012-01-06 15:04

      In a nutshell (from what I've gathered from other sites): these scientists managed get a classical law (in this case, Ohm's law I=V/Z) which usually apply on large scales only (like the copper cables in your house, etc) to also apply on the atomic level (where the laws of quantum physics usually dictate). I.e. the problem facing modern chip designers is that they have reached the lower limit on the size of the conductors connecting transistors. Conductors (copper, gold, whatever) of only a few atoms wide will behave erratically due to quantum effects. The process the researchers developed now allows the creation of conductors which do not

  • Sean - 2012-01-06 12:37

    Amazing!

  • Juan - 2012-01-06 13:01

    Maybe we might have robot servants in our homes in our lifetime

      StirMonger - 2012-01-06 18:42

      Well the ANC has them already. They're currently called Civil Servants. Though I can't think for the life of me Why?

  • Motloang Ron-r Mohapi - 2012-01-07 12:48

    Sounds awesome

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