Quantum breakthrough leads to atomic scale computing

Computing on an atomic scale has been brought closer with the development of atom-thin silicon nanowires, opening up the door for quantum computing in the next decade.

The silicon wire, developed at the University of New South Wales, Melbourne University and Purdue University, is the smallest ever at just one atom tall and four atoms wide.

Crucially, the silicon wire is able to maintain its resistivity even at this atomic level, giving hope for a roadmap to devices at the end of Moore’s Law.

Despite being 20 times thinner than conventional copper wires in contemporary circuitry, a computer model has allowed the development of a silicon wire pieced together atom-by-atom. Usually smaller wire sizes are achieved by being stripped away.

The discovery has numerous implications.  As well as showing a path to extending Moore’s Law it shows that Ohm’s law of the relationship between electric current , resistance and voltage holds true even at the atomic level.

Most intriguingly it opens up a path to quantum computing production.  Speaking on Australian ABC Radio, Michelle Simmons from the University of New South Wales outlined how useful the silicon nanowires could be for the future of computing.

“They still conduct with the same resistivity as if they were really thick wires,” Simmons said.

“This is something that is unexpected as normally when you make wires very thin, the thinner you make them the more resistive they get.”

Simmons told ABC Radio that it will be useful for the semiconductor industry because components need to get smaller. The research, Simmons said, proved that devices can be pushed to the atomic scale, while still maintaining low resistivity.

According to Simmons, resistivity can usually increase “exponentially” when the 10 nanometre mark is reached.

With developments such as this though, she hopes that atomic level computing can be reached “in the next decade or so”.

With quantum computing it will be possible to make calculations that would take “longer than the lifetime of the universe” on a classical computer, in just “seconds or minutes”.

Simmons has stated that while scientists are on the verge of making transistors out of single atoms, the full set of building block components for a working quantum computer also need to be constructed.

This latest effort should help make a complete working quantum computer even more viable.