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Mind-Blowing Tech: A Transistor Made of a Single Atom

by Adriana Lee | March 1, 2012March 1, 2012 6:00 pm PDT

We know technology’s advancing at a rapid clip, and that its hardware only gets smaller as time goes on, but this? Who could’ve thought that a transistor made from one atom would be possible?

The physicists at Australia’s University of New South Wales did. Positioning the atom (of phosphorus-31) precisely into a silicon array, they made successful electrode contact, changing the atom’s quantum position.

In laymen’s terms, it means that a technology is coming that not only offers jaw-dropping speeds, but can also reduce the electronics industry’s reliance on certain limited and ethically dicey materials. Take diamonds, for instance. These rocks aren’t just for romantic engagements; they also show up in electronics, despite being scarce and extracted by down-trodden and exploited hands. But these tiny atom-sized transistors, which use silicon and phosphorus, can replace the big superconductors that so often use diamond matter.

We’ve seen innovations the size of 12 atoms and even just four atoms, but to make a transistor out of a single atom is an incredible leap forward. And tech junkies aren’t the only ones watching this development with an eagle eye. For economists and politicos, the news is exciting as well, since it could cause a shift in power, as geographic strongholds for precious materials lose their advantage. For instance, China’s control of several rare superconductor metals has made them a world power to be reckoned with.

It will take years for this atomic wonder to reach the consumer market, but the seal has been broken now. This quantum computing technology is real, and it is definitely on the way.

Just goes to show that good things do come in infinitesimally small packages.

[via Forbes, source UNSW]


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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