Science 2 min read

Scientists Develop new Method to Produce Single-Atom Transistors

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Single-atom transistors are essential components of the next generations of ultra-powerful computers. Before, only one research group had successfully created this component.

But that’s no longer the case. Now, scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland have built single-atom transistors for the second time ever.

Here’s how it happened.

The researchers developed a novel construction technique that gave them control over the transistor’s geometry. With this unprecedented precision, they could alter the rate at which individual electrons flow across the transistor’s physical gap or electrical barrier.

Such a feat should be impossible according to the laws of classical physics.

The phenomenon is known as quantum tunneling, and its manipulation can enable the entanglement of a transistor. Entangled transistors can help create quantum bits, the information that powers quantum computers.

So, how did the scientists build new transistors?

Fabricating Single-Atom Transistors for the Second Time Ever

To build the transistors, the researchers first added a layer of hydrogen atoms to a silicon chip. After that, they removed individual hydrogen atoms using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

The scientists then introduced phosphine gas molecules to replace the missing hydrogen atoms. The phosphine molecules broke, and the phosphorus atoms substituted one layer down into the silicon lattice.

At this point, the researchers added more silicon to the top layer and removed the hydrogen altogether. Then, they baked the lattice to eliminate possible defects and create a uniform crystal structure.

Another layer of uniform silicon crystal was added on top. Finally, the researchers applied palladium metal to the surface of target atoms to create electrical contact.

The two materials reacted to create regions of palladium silicide. Thanks to these regions, the researchers were able to make electrical contact with the buried phosphorus.

You can have the best single-atom-transistor device in the world, but if you can’t make contact with it, it’s useless,” NIST researcher Jonathan Wyrick noted.

Wyrick and colleagues published their paper on the single-atom transistor and quantum tunneling in the journal Communications Physics.

Read More: Single-Atom Data Storage now one Step Closer

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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