Scientists create working transistor from a single atom
February 19, 2012
By Francis Bea
Researchers from the University of New South Wales have achieved an astonishing feat: the first-ever creation of a working transistor from a single atom.
Since 1954, when Texas Instruments scientist, George Teal, created the first silicon transistor, the innovations in creating smaller and smaller transistors have paved the way for the manufacturing of today’s computers and mobile devices. A single device may hold billions of transistors, which work together in concert to perform simple binary calculations. With more transistors packed into a specified area, calculations will become faster and computers will be able to store more information, all the while requiring less power than contemporary transistors.
The creation of single-atom transistors using silicon has been recreated in the past, albeit accidentally. Until today, the margin of error to beat has been ten nanometers. (A nanometer equals one billionth of a meter, just FYI.) But for a single-atom transistor to be utilized in computers and other devices for practical use, requires the ability to isolate and situate a single atom accurately onto a silicon chip. According to nanotechnology journal Nature Nanotechnology, however, this is precisely what the researchers have done.
Here’s how they did it: Using a scanning tunneling microscope (a device that allows researchers to see the atoms, and provides them the precision necessary for atom manipulation) the researchers etched a narrow channel into a silicon base. Phosphine gas was then deployed, which carried an isolated atom of phosphorous to a desired area between two electrodes. When an electric current was passed through the device, it amplified and switched electrical signals — just like any other working transistor.