UK scientists have created what they claim is the world's smallest transistor, measuring one atom in thickness and 10 atoms in width.
The researchers, from the University of Manchester, published a paper in the journal Science last week, in which they said they had managed to carve tiny electronic circuits out of a substance called graphene, with each transistor being barely larger than a molecule.
The team is led by Dr Kostya Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim of the School of Physics and Astronomy, who were among the first to identify graphene four years ago, and their paper on the subject is entitled Chaotic Dirac Billiard in Graphene Quantum Dots.
Graphene is a one-atom-thick lattice of carbon atoms, organised in a honeycomb or chickenwire formation. It has proven to be an excellent conductor and many see it as having implications for the future of nanoelectronics, particularly because its conductive performance improves at sizes of below 10nm — roughly the same scale where the efficiency of silicon breaks down and Moore's Law ceases to be relevant.
"Previously, researchers tried to use large molecules as individual transistors to create a new kind of electronic circuit," said Novoselov. "It is like a bit of chemistry added to computer engineering. Now one can think of designer molecules acting as transistors connected into designer computer architecture on the basis of the same material [graphene], and use the same fabrication approach that is currently used by the semiconductor industry."
Geim stressed that it was still "too early to promise graphene supercomputers", and admitted that his team "relied on chance when making such small transistors".
"Unfortunately, no existing technology allows the [use of] cutting materials with true nanometre precision. But this is exactly the same challenge that all post-silicon electronics has to face. At least we now have a material that can meet such a challenge," Geim said.