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UK Scientists Make Transistor One Atom Long, 10 Atoms Wide 186

Bibek Paudel points out a story about the latest step forward in the development of nano-scale circuits. Researchers from the University of Manchester have created some of the smallest transistors ever, measuring only one atom by 10 atoms. The transistors are made out of graphene, which has the potential to replace silicon in the never-ending hunt for smaller computer technology. From NewScientist: "There are other kinds of prototype transistors in this size range. But they usually need supercooling using liquid gas, says Novoselov. The new graphene devices work at room temperature. Such prototypes are typically made by building one atom at a time, or wiring up individual molecules. Those approaches are complex and impractical, Novoselov says. By contrast, the graphene transistors were made in the same way that silicon devices are, by etching them out of larger pieces of material. 'That's their big advantage,' he says."
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UK Scientists Make Transistor One Atom Long, 10 Atoms Wide

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:25AM (#23115866)
    One question...
    How do you know it's one atom long and ten wide? maybe it's ten atoms long and one wide?
    • Re:Orientation? (Score:5, Informative)

      by transmorph ( 86987 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:05AM (#23116124)
      From the linked article:

      "The smallest dots that worked as transistors contained as few as five carbon rings - around 10 atoms or 1nm wide."

      Somehow that became 10 atoms wide and 1 atom long in the summary.

      I know, I know - this sort of thing would never happen on Slashdot...
    • The way I understand it, the longer dimension was typically the "long" dimension and the shorter one was considered the "wide" dimension. So I believe you, sir, are correct, and these so-called "scientists" are horribly, horribly wrong.
    • At first it was 1 atom wide, 1 atom deep, and 10 atoms high, but it kept falling over into two dimensions.

      Since it can fall over and loses all thickness, they expect to layer an infinite amount onto a chip, which the marketing people are excited about.

    • Moore's law would say that in about 5 years we'll have transistors smaller than an atom, which would suggest some kind of splitting going on.

      Don't know about you but I wouldn't like to pay for the cooling system on it.
  • Wait... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:25AM (#23115868) Homepage
    Shouldn't that be 10 Atoms long, One Atom wide?
    • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

      by lixee ( 863589 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:28AM (#23115896)
      Not in electrical engineering.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You could think of it that way because you are a guy... but he article was submitted by a woman thinking "I am too fat"
    • Then again, I suppose it's what you do with it that counts...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hardburn ( 141468 )

      Further, what exactly is a "liquid gas"?

      • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

        by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:13AM (#23116890)
        'Liquid Gas' is sometimes used to describe a substance that is under pressure and a liquid, but is typically a gas under normal atmospheric conditions (1 atm, 25C or something similar)

        You will often see it in reference to Natural Gas, as 'Liquid Natural Gas' Since the term 'Natural Gas' is more of a formal name, than any descriptor of a chemical and its state.
    • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

      by cibyr ( 898667 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:22AM (#23116292) Journal
      I know you've been modded funny, but some people are probably wondering - when talking about transistors, "length" is how far electrons have to travel through the transistor, and "width" is the other dimension (effectively how many electrons can travel through the transistor at the same time). Resistance is proportional to length and inversely proportional to width.
      • by wurp ( 51446 )
        Resistance is inversely proportional to the surface area orthogonal to the direction of current flow, which is presumably basically the square of the width.
      • Transistor current is proportional to Width/Length. A wider transistor produces a bigger current for the same input voltage (basically, an amplifier).

        Transistor load (capacitance) is determined by the area of the gate, or Width * Length.

  • I submitted this in story form [slashdot.org] yesterday but also in recent news, Glasgow scientists have made a tiny switch that would make huge leaps in memory storage:

    Scientists at the University of Galsgow have claimed a breakthrough that enables them to store 500,000 gigabytes squeezed onto one square inch [nanowerk.com] making way for some hilarious storage for things like cell phones and iPods. The scientists working on it divulged, "We have been able to assemble a functional nanocluster that incorporates two electron donating groups, and position them precisely 0.32 nm apart so that they can form a totally new type of molecular switching device. This is unprecedented and provides a route to produce new a molecule-based switch that can be easily manipulated using an electric field. By taking these nano-scale clusters, just a nanometer in size, and placing them onto a gold or carbon, we can control the switching ability. Not only is this a new type of switchable molecule, but by grafting the molecule on to metal (gold) or carbon means that we can potentially bridge the gap between traditional semiconductor devices and components for nanoscale plastic electronics. The key advantage of the molecule sized switch is information / transistor density in traditional semi-conductors. Molecule sized switches would lead to increasing data storage to say 4 Petabits per square inch. This breakthrough shows conceptually that this is possible (showing the bulk effect) but we are yet to solve the fabrication and addressing problems. The fact these switches work on carbon means that they could be embedded in plastic chips so silicon is not needed and the system becomes much more flexible both physically and technologically. Since these switches are little balls of metal oxide they are made of similar stuff to normal semi-conductors but are much easier to manipulate as discrete molecular units." You can read more about it in Nature's Nanotechnology publication [nature.com]. In related news, researchers have claimed to harness terahertz radiation using circuits [telegraph.co.uk].

    Another advancement in nanotechnology, thought I would post it here since it's probably not going to be used.
    • by Kythe ( 4779 )

      we are yet to solve the fabrication and addressing problems

      So, unfortunately, this breakthrough does not enable them to store 500 terabytes in one square inch.

      Making things ridiculously small is a good first step, but without the ability to fabricate huge numbers of them side by side in an organized and connected fashion, it remains just that.

      I'm encouraged that lots is being done with carbon; it seems this area is receiving more and more focus, which will hopefully lead to solving some of the fabrication i

    • "Hilarious" storage? What does that even mean?

  • "which has the potential to replace silicon". Talk is cheap. Show me the stuff. Seriously, that phrase has been around for decades...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by beav007 ( 746004 )
      I got an early engineering version to test, but I can't figure out how to solder the damn thing to a PCB...
    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )
      "which has the potential to replace silicon". Talk is cheap. Show me the stuff. Seriously, that phrase has been around for decades...

      If you're only interested in products and don't care about discoveries, then you're on the wrong site. Try amazon.com instead.

  • Science or Magic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:38AM (#23115952)
    Seriously, sometimes I feel the line between science and magic gets fuzzy. A transistor one atom by 10 atoms? That's on such a small scale that is so hard to comprehend that it'd almost be easier to hand-wave it and just say "it's magic."
    • by wpiman ( 739077 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:42AM (#23115980)
      I think it is interesting it is one atom long by ten atoms wide. Isn't the definition of the long side the one that is longer?
      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        I guess it refers to the length as the direction of propagation of the electron, and the width as to where the 'side' controls for the transistor are located. Yeah, I'm rusty in analog 'tronics, how can you tell ?
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )
        It's just another case of an engineering discipline create a term that's almost but not entirely unlike the common definition. Just like when computer scientists decided that the kilobyte would work completely different than the kilogram, kilometer, kilowatt, kilopascal and all the other terms used in daily life and natural sciences. The overhead they've caused by confusing millions of people which have to be explained the difference, misleading marketing, discussions on how to fix it and all the bugs relat
        • Any sort of engineer, scientist, or technician should be using the units that make their math the easiest. For computer science, power-of-two units for storage is correct. If we CS people have to occasionally write KiB (pronounced "kay" or "kilobyte") every once and a while when talking to communication engineers, that's fine - but I could care less about confusing the general public by 2% on hard disk size.

    • Re:Science or Magic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by UnHolier than ever ( 803328 ) <unholy_@nosPAm.hotmail.com> on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:55AM (#23116064)
      Worst. Graphene being 1 atom wide? Graphene [wikipedia.org] is a planar sheet with a honeycomb lattice. I fail to see how you can make a 1 atom wide honeycomb lattice. Unless what they mean is 1 atom thick, but then this is a 1 atom X 10 atoms X 10^6 atoms transistor. This isn't quite the same thing.
    • This is just in: "Future Computers Powered By Magic"

      According to Mark Erlin of the University of Oxford future computers will be powered by magic. He thinks that we are now close on the threshold to what they call in technical terms "transphysical barrier to a multi-folded dimension" which is a complicated way to say "magic". "This is an amazing dicovery! This is probably the best thing since sliced bread!" says Erlin. "We have discovered this magic by studying very small transistors, no more than a few ato
    • That's on such a small scale that is so hard to comprehend that it'd almost be easier to hand-wave it and just say "it's magic."
      Yeah, I probably created 150 of these before breakfast, but I just don't have the equipment to observe it.
    • by ledow ( 319597 )
      "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

      The recently-deceased Arthur C. Clarke.
    • Seriously, sometimes I feel the line between science and magic gets fuzzy. A transistor one atom by 10 atoms? That's on such a small scale that is so hard to comprehend that it'd almost be easier to hand-wave it and just say "it's magic."

      To get a real feel for it, you need to put it in different terms, namely: How many of these will fit in the Library of Congress?

  • Old news (Score:3, Funny)

    by HetMes ( 1074585 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:39AM (#23115958)
    Pah! I discovered Miniaturization two years ago in Civilization II.
  • A quick search said nothing about power consumption. If these transistors are really small, but leaky as hell with subthreshold [wikipedia.org] leakage then what's the point? The chip might have to manage heat/power in such a way that there's a large portion of the die dedicated to it.

    Also, what "atom" size are we talking about here?

  • Liquid gas? (Score:4, Funny)

    by jomegat ( 706411 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:46AM (#23115998)
    So... is a liquid gas anything like a solid liquid? Or perhaps a case of flatulence gone wrong?
  • alas (Score:3, Insightful)

    by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @08:58AM (#23116086)
    Of course, this being the UK, we'll give the technology away or sell the company that owns it to an overseas one for 50p.
  • by Kythe ( 4779 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#23116194)
    This technology (and other similar developments using graphene/carbon) seems very promising. And I'm glad they could solve one part of the fabrication process using steps that are already in use (etching).

    However, there remains another issue when using these devices to construct circuits: patterning. Right now, that's generally done with lithography, and though several ideas are being worked on, we simply cannot yet use lithography to pattern devices anywhere near this small.

    Don't get me wrong: it's good that such technology is out there waiting for us once the patterning tech catches up. But until that happens, this stuff will likely remain in the lab.
  • Not only did they etch this out of a larger piece of material, but even the larger piece of material was too small to see with the naked eye.

    Of course, someday they'll find a material where a single atom is, like, an inch wide, and then we won't be impressed by atoms anymore...
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:22AM (#23116290) Journal
    At this scale, the transistor could very easily be destroyed by a cosmic ray. Interesting experiment, but I have a hard time believing that this development can find many practical applications.

    • Yeah but on the other hand, your CPU becomes a FANTASTIC cosmic ray detector! I wonder if we could harness that for the SETI-at-home project...
    • by Kythe ( 4779 )
      I suppose shielding is always an option.

      For that matter: how vulnerable is the graphene crystalline structure to radiation damage? Carbon bonds can be among the strongest in nature.
    • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:51AM (#23116582)
      In Eric Drexler's [wikipedia.org] book "Nanosystems [amazon.com], he carefully analyzes questions like this regarding the possible failure modes of atomically-precise devices. The book goes through the math in detail. The short answer is that even with fairly pessimistic assumptions (e.g. that a single-atom defect created during manufacture or afterwards by cosmic rays or other radiation will completely destroy a particular functional sub-unit), you can still design highly robust devices.

      The most obvious way is to build in some level of redundancy. Naively you can have dozens of redundant sub-units, and use things like "majority voting" to pull out the signal from the noise. In practice there are more elegant ways to do this (e.g. error correction). Many modern chips do indeed have some redundancies so that even with manufacturing defects, the chip still runs (perhaps with some reduction in functionality). Organizing the chip so that failsafe-checks occur during operation is certainly possible.

      Again, check out the book for more details. The point is that these questions have been thought about and they are not insurmountable. The rate of defects generated from spurious environmental damage (e.g. cosmic rays) is low enough that it can be overcome with fairly straightforward engineering.
    • by Gotung ( 571984 )
      Not just cosmic rays, normal good old nuclear decay becomes an issue. Sure the half-life on carbon is very, very long, but it does decay. And just one carbon atom decaying in a microprocessor made up of these means a broken computer.
  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:42AM (#23116478)

    UK Scientists Make Transistor One Atom Long, 10 Atoms Wide

    They're in the UK, so I believe the proper term for them is "boffins".

  • Last time I checked, the internal temperature of my processors were at least twice as high as room temperature.
    • by wurp ( 51446 )
      Your processors run at over 310 degrees Celsius?

      The only sane way to calculate "multiples" of temperature is in kelvins, and room temperature is about 293 kelvins. Double would mean 586 kelvins, which is about 316 degrees Celsius.

      Whenever e.g. the rate of chemical reactions are proportional to the temperature, it always means the temperature in kelvins.
      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )
        Sorry for not having a degree in alchemy dude!

        Most of the population on this planet assumes celcius when talking about room temperature, meaning that my processors are always at least at 42 degrees.

        • by smithmc ( 451373 ) *

          Sorry for not having a degree in alchemy dude!

          Most of the population on this planet assumes celcius when talking about room temperature, meaning that my processors are always at least at 42 degrees.

          That's fine, but then don't go calling it "twice the temperature", 'cause it isn't, no matter how you slice it. And it's "Celsius", by the way - two esses, not two cees.

      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )
        Ok I made a typo on celsius, sue me...

        And btw room temperature is 21 celsius, so it's 294.15 kelvins, not 293. :p
        • by wurp ( 51446 )
          I used approximations to point out your error without bogging down in details. Apparently it didn't work.

          The problem with the information you gave doesn't require a degree in "alchemy" to see - you didn't say degrees C or F; or kelvins; for the temperature, and double room temperature in degrees C is very different than double room temperature in degrees F or in kelvins.
          • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )
            And you didn't bother to actually understand what I said in one of my replies: the whole world uses celsius when talking about "room temperature" (apart from americans and british).

            Some units are implied in day-to-day conversations. If someone tells you he's 20, you'll understand he implied 20-years old, you won't start asking them "20 days old? 20 minutes old? 20 years old according to the chinese calendar?"

  • meh (Score:4, Funny)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:07AM (#23116814) Homepage Journal
    call me when they make one that's 1x4x9. [imdb.com]
  • by Chas ( 5144 )
    Now if they can scale it up to a factor of a few billion/trillion, and mass produce it, they'll replace silicon....
    *Holds breath*
  • Next thing you know we're going to be needing small atoms to keep Moore's Law humming along.
  • Nanotech is great stuff. The further we advance in nano-tech is better the chanses we don't mess up the timeline because we can go back in time acedently drop our future PDA's and the technology is so small there is no chance in hell that people would be able to figure out the tech and make their own. Thus saving the timeline. Timetravelers rejoice, long are the days of the spinning wheel bicicle.
  • And I've built a quantum interface 10 chars long and three wide and can operate in just three dimensions;

    I'm currently working on the psychology of GSVs;

    I'll need to add a fourth dimension to get volume, but it works.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray