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Grad student creates world's thinnest wires – just three atoms wide

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A Vanderbilt University graduate student has created the world's thinnest wires using a beam of electrons, a technique that could usher in new ultra-slim form factors for electronics and possibly help the chip industry build smaller, faster processors.

Ph.D candidate Junhao Lin used a scanning transmission electron microscope capable of focusing a beam of electrons down to a width of half an ångström to create the wires. The work was carried out at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where he is a visiting scientist.

"This will likely stimulate a huge research interest in monolayer circuit design," Lin said. "Because this technique uses electron irradiation, it can in principle be applicable to any kind of electron-based instrument, such as electron-beam lithography."

The wires were carved out of transition-metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs), which are formed of a mixture of the metals molybdenum or tungsten with either sulfur or selenium. These form into monolayers – slabs of material an atom thick – and are being actively investigated because their conductive qualities make them ideal for the electronics industry.

Scientists have already created functioning transistors and flash memory gates from TMDCs and wires are the next step to making a fully functioning electronic system that's just atoms thick. Because of their tiny size, such components can be stacked to vastly increase the amount of grunt on possible future processors.

"Junhao took this project and really ran with it," said his supervisor, Professor Sokrates Pantelides. "If you let your imagination go, you can envision tablets and television displays that are as thin as a sheet of paper that you can roll up and stuff in your pocket or purse."

The full paper on Lin's technique is published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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