Researchers kill computer circuit size limits

A team of researchers has found a way to kill the size limits on computer circuits by using room-temperature nanotube quantum-tunnelling.

Yoke Khin Yap of Michigan Technological University has been penning a treatise on a possible technique which has been published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The world of transistors and semiconductors in computer processors could give way to systems built on the way electrons misbehave.

Rather than relying on a predictable flow of electrons of current circuits, the new approach depends on quantum tunnelling. In this, electrons travel faster than light and appear to arrive at a new location before having left the old one, and pass straight through barriers that should be able to hold them back. This appears to be under the direction of a cat which is possibly dead and alive at the same time, but we might have gotten that bit wrong.

There is a lot of good which could come out of building such a computer circuit. For a start, the circuits are built by creating pathways for electrons to travel across a bed of nanotubes, and are not limited by any size restriction relevant to current manufacturing methods.

They would require far less power than even the tiniest transistors, and do not give off heat or leak electricity as waste products.

Yap wrote that circuits based on quantum tunnelling could replace silicon with nanotubes made of boron nitride and electrical pathways consisting of quantum dots, in the form of carefully placed bits of gold as small as three nanometers across.

Yap’s team discovered that running the right voltage of current across gold-decorated boron nitride nanotubes allowed electrons to tunnel precisely from one quantum dot to the other, even without the restraining effect of traditional transistor circuits.

The electrons hopped between the gold stepping stones one electron at a time. Since every electron passed the same way, the device is always stable.

What is more important is that Yap’s designs can do all this at room temperature, which makes the technology more suitable for future computer designs.

Yap has already filed for an international patent that would allow the technology to be controlled and licensed for commercial development, although this could be years away from being enacted.