According to technology related USENET newsgroups, researchers are getting down to the atomic level in the pursuit of smaller and more powerful computers.
Using a scanning-tunneling microscope (STM), the scientists were able to precisely manipulate hydrogen atoms around a phosphorus atom on a silicon wafer inside an ultra-high vacuum chamber. The result is the first single-atom transistor made with perfect precision, which could one day become a building block for a quantum computer.
They have created a working transistor consisting of a single atom placed precisely in a silicon crystal – and this unprecedented atomic accuracy may yield the elementary building block for a future quantum computer with unparalleled power. Getting a transistor down to one single atom has been a dream of every scientist and now it’s been achieved. Until now, single-atom transistors have been realised only by chance, where researchers either have had to search through many devices or tune multi-atom devices to isolate one that works.
Single-atom transistors first appeared in 2002, but the advances this time lie “in the precision with which they were able to place the Lilliputian switch; and in using for the first time industry-standard techniques to build the circuitry, making it possible to read and write information from the tiniest-conceivable switch”
Although definitions can vary, simply stated Moore’s Law holds that the number of transistors that can be placed on a processor will double approximately every 18 months. The latest Intel chip, the “Sandy Bridge,” uses a manufacturing process to place 2.3 billion transistors 32 nanometers apart. A single phosphorus atom, by comparison, is just 0.1 nanometers across, which would significantly reduce the size of processors made using this technique, although it may be many years before single-atom processors actually are manufactured.