Much more Moore's Law, as boffins assemble atom-level transistor

We laugh at your puny 10nm process

NRL's STM image of molecular transistor
Iridium atoms surround the phthalocyanine molecule to create a tiny transistor

The end times for Moore's Law aren't quite at hand, but we now know what the silicon-killer might look like: single-molecule transistors that can switch at the single electron level.

That's what a multinational team of boffins working with the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) say they've created.

The transistor consists of a single molecule of phthalocyanine (a carbon/hydrogen/nitrogen compound) surrounded by 12 positively-charged iridium atoms, on an indium-arsenic substrate.

Project leader Dr Stefan Fölsch of the Paul-Drude-Institut für Festkörperelektronik explains the operation of the transistor in the NRL's media release.

"The molecule is only weakly bound to the InAs template. So, when we bring the STM [scanning tunnelling microscope] tip very close to the molecule and apply a bias voltage to the tip-sample junction, single electrons can tunnel between template and tip."

Electrons travel by hopping between molecular orbits, Fölsch said, which is similar to how an electrode-gated quantum dot works.

The researchers, who also included boffins from the Freie Universität Berlin and NTT's Basic Research Laboratories in Japan, say they worked bottom-up, predicting how the molecule's charge state would affect its rotational orientations.

That prediction was then confirmed by imaging with the STM, NRL physicist Dr Steven Erwin said.

Over time, the researchers will continue studying the processes of current flow through single molecules, with an eye to integrating molecular transistors with conventional silicon technologies.

Until that happens, the giants of microelectronics will just have to struggle along with 10 nanometre fabrication. ®

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