Scientists are engaged in a race to make electronics components even tinier. Now, three breakthroughs in the manufacture of chips and superconductors are about to make computer components so small that they can operate on the quantum level.
At Bristol University, scientists were able to precisely control the movement of 4 photons on a silicon chip using a metal electrode lithographed on the surface. It was the first time that scientists have reported being able to precisely manipulate the photons and cause them to interact with one another. According to a university press release:
A commentary on the work that appeared in the same issue described it as "an important step in the quest for quantum computation" and concluded: "The most exciting thing about this work is its potential for scalability. The small size of the [device] means that far greater complexity is possible than with large-scale optics."
The engravings through which the photons moved were similar in function to optical fibers, meaning that there is a potential path forward for utilizing or improving existing optical technologies.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin created the thinnest superconducting metal. The metal was applied to — yes — a silicon chip in a two-atom thick layer. What's the big deal about something so small?
Superconductors are unique because they can maintain an electrical current indefinitely with no power source. They are used in MRI machines, particle accelerators, quantum interference devices and other applications.
The development of the thin superconducting sheets of lead lays the groundwork for future advancements in superconductor technologies.
"To be able to control this material-to shape it into new geometries-and explore what happens is very exciting," says Shih, the Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor in Physics. "My hope is that this superconductive surface will enable one to build devices and study new properties of superconductivity."
The scientists are hoping that by successfully miniaturizing the technology, they can build new applications that need not require an external power source, among other things.
Finally, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully replaced copper interconnects on integrated circuits with nanoribbons of graphene, which are thin layers of graphite. The decreasing resistance of copper interconnects on circuits has long bedeviled scientists involved in miniaturizing electronics.
"As you make copper interconnects narrower and narrower, the resistivity increases as the true nanoscale properties of the material become apparent," said Raghunath Murali, a research engineer in Georgia Tech's Microelectronics Research Center and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Our experimental demonstration of graphene nanowire interconnects on the scale of 20 nanometers shows that their performance is comparable to even the most optimistic projections for copper interconnects at that scale. Under real-world conditions, our graphene interconnects probably already out-perform copper at this size scale."
Beyond resistivity improvement, graphene interconnects would offer higher electron mobility, better thermal conductivity, higher mechanical strength and reduced capacitance coupling between adjacent wires.
In other words, the same stuff that's now in your pencil will eventually be powering the computer that will replace your pencil... and maybe the chip that will replace your free will.
Manipulating light on a chip for quantum technologies [Bristol University]
Thinnest superconducting metal created [EurekAlert]
Graphene May Have Advantages Over Copper For IC Interconnects At The Nanoscale [Science Daily]