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Scientists create single-atom devices to supercharge computers

Researchers devise groundbreaking new methods to create and duplicate single-atom transistors for quantum computers.

Quantum computer illustration.

Adobe Stock.
  • Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland were able to create single-atom transistors for only the second time ever.
  • They also achieved an unprecedented quantum mechanics feat, allowing for the future development of computers.
  • The tiny devices could be crucial in creating qubits, leading to next-generation technology.

    • Tiny technologies could have tremendous effects on the next generation of computers, supercharging memory and processing abilities. Key to these advancements would be the creation of transistors that are the size of several or even single atoms. Newly-published research from scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland provides a blueprint on how to create such microscopic tech.

      A big challenge to this endeavor is in figuring out how to duplicate such small transistors, which would act like small on-off switches, reports Science News. Utilizing the recipe they devised, the team led by NIST became just the second ever to create a single-atom transistor and the first ever to produce a series of transistors with only a single electron each, whose geometry could be manipulated at the atomic level.

      The scientists were also able to gain control over the quantum phenomenon of quantum tunneling, changing the rate at which individual electrons travelled through a physical gap or the transistor's electrical barrier. The significance of managing this process lies in allowing the transistors to get "entangled" according to the laws of quantum mechanics. This can lead to new ways of creating quantum bits (qubits) – the basic unit of information in quantum computing.

      Check out how the researchers were able to fabricate single-atom and few-atom transistors:

      Fabricating Single-Atom Transistors

      Their methods for precisely duplicating the devices that can work as qubits featured key innovations like sealing the phosphorus atoms involved with layers of silicon to protect them and then sending electricity to the embedded atoms, as NIST researcher Richard Silver explained.

      "We believe our method of applying the layers provides more stable and precise atomic-scale devices," he added.

      What's also remarkable about their achievement is that this approach of making electrical contact with the micro transistors has a nearly 100% success rate. This allows the devices to operate as part of a circuit. As Silver's colleague on the research, Jonathan Wyrick, stated, "You can have the best single-atom-transistor device in the world, but if you can't make contact with it, it's useless."

      The researchers also included Xiqiao Wang, Michael Stewart Jr., and Curt Richter.

      Check out their study in Communications Physics.

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