Boffins beat Moore's Law with quantum magic

Look, ma, no wires

IBM scientists believe they may have found a way to beat the physical limitations imposed on microprocessors as the chips' circuits become too small to support an electrical current. The technique, dubbed the Quantum Mirage Effect (QME), is positively mind-boggling. Essentially, information about an atom at point A appears at point B even though there is no physical connection between the two points. "We call it a mirage because we project information about one atom to another spot where there is no atom," said Donald Eigler, head of the research project at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. "This is a fundamentally new way of guiding information through a solid." QME is analogous the way sound and light can be guided by curved surfaces, such as parabolic reflectors, from one point to another, except this time the information is transmitted by electrons, which, according to quantum theory, can behave either as particles (which they do in a traditional electrical circuit, say) or as waves. The IBM team created an ellipse-shaped ring of cobalt atoms on a surface of copper, creating the quantum equivalent of a parabolic dish. Placing an atom of magnetic cobalt at one focus of the ellipse, the atom's quantum state was replicated at the other focus. So, were you to alter the atom's quantum state -- the spatial distribution of its electrons and their energies -- that information would be transmitted to the other focus instantaneously. The interest here for the processor industry here is that as chips are produced with ever-smaller (in accordance with Moore's Law) electrical circuits, the point will soon be reached where there are too few electrons to support a current. Researchers reckon the limit will be hit in around ten years' time as fabrication processes drop beyond 0.1 micron. The IBM discovery is a long way off being applied to practical processor circuitry, but it does offer one way of shrinking chip technology beyond its current limits. The IBM team have produced ellipses that are 20 nanometres long -- around ten times smaller than the wiring within a 0.22 micron chip. ® Related Story Big Blue boffins to unveil 4.5GHz CPU breakthrough

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