Magazine article Science News

Wiring Teensy Tubes, Strands into Circuits. (Science News of the Week)

Magazine article Science News

Wiring Teensy Tubes, Strands into Circuits. (Science News of the Week)

Article excerpt

After years of building individual electronic components from single molecules and submicroscopic rods, researchers have now linked the tiny devices into prototype circuits.

Separate teams at Harvard University and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have built the circuits out of transistors, wires, and other components as narrow as a few atoms across. The circuits can carry out simple computations, such as adding two bits together.

By creating such circuits, teams led by Charles M. Lieber at Harvard and Cees Dekker at Delft may be opening the door to electronic chips far more powerful and compact than those that can be made by current means, the scientists say. Both research groups describe their novel circuits in the Nov. 9 SCIENCE.

These studies represent "dramatic steps toward the realization of electronic nanocomputers," say Greg Y. Tseng of Stanford University and James C. Ellenbogen of Mitre Corp. in McLean, Va., in a commentary accompanying the research articles.

In today's chips, even the smallest transistors span thousands of atoms, or hundreds of nanometers. Chip makers build such components using a process in which they apply semiconducting, metallic, and insulating layers to a semiconductor wafer to create microscopic circuitry. Manufacturers orchestrate the procedure using light for imprinting patterns onto the wafer.

For some 40 years, engineers have steadily shrunk those patterns, roughly doubling the number of transistors on a chip every 18 months. Many electronics specialists predict that this miniaturization may end within another decade or two, as such devices reach their physical limits. The new prototype circuits, which are slower than today's circuitry, may be forerunners of the devices that will supersede conventional microelectronics.

In earlier studies, Lieber's group showed that crossing two semiconductor nanowires, each thinner than a virus, can create a transistor or some other electron-controlling component (SN: 5/5/01, p. …

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