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Scientists Create First Functional Molecular Transistor 57

Posted by Soulskill
from the ever-smaller dept.
Dananajaya Ramanayake sends along this excerpt from Wired: "Nearly 62 years after researchers at Bell Labs demonstrated the first functional transistor, scientists say they have made another major breakthrough. Researchers showed the first functional transistor made from a single molecule. The transistor, which has a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts, could behave just like a silicon transistor. The molecule's different energy states can be manipulated by varying the voltage applied to it through the contacts. And by manipulating the energy states, researchers were able to control the current passing through it."
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Scientists Create First Functional Molecular Transistor

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  • Now when they say "those games are killing your social life" it can be held as literal as well as figurative.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:05PM (#30556202)

    or two, if the price is right. ;~) However, right now, it smells like vaporware.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:00PM (#30556588)

      However, right now, it smells like vaporware.

      I hate to break it to you, but it could only be "vaporware" if they had actually announced a product.

      This is what is commonly referred to as "scientific research". It will, in and of itself, never produce a product. However, what WILL happen is Bell Labs begins working on turning this accomplishment into a manufacturable product. As was noted in the article, this is probably still a decade or more away from reality.

      When Bell scientists produced the first vacuum tube transistor in 1947, they didn't suddenly have super-computers in 1948. It took years of developement after that initial breakthrough to produce computers at a realistic price (millions of dollars at the time for less computing power than a $2 calculator).

      The same thing will happen here, and in a decade or two our world will yet again be unrecognizeable from what it is today.

  • And I have the same question for the memristor. Both look very interesting to me.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      If you'd read the entire summary it would have answered your question: a decade or two.

      This is the initial breakthrough discovery, a useable product will be a long way off. I think the summary underestimates the drive to maintain or beat Moore's Law a bit, and we'll see the molecular transistor in action in less than 20 but more than 10 years.

  • So what happens when the Benzene evaporates away? Does it take your bits with it?

  • Another question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:17PM (#30556300)

    How stable is it? This would drastically lower the costs of production and effectively approach the size limit of a transistor, but for something that they purport to use in supercomputing applications, they'll have to find a way to make it last a long time. That's the hurdle that's preventing most organic devices (LEDs, PVs, TFTs).

    Long way to go here.

    • by TheKidWho (705796)

      Last a long time? Are you kidding? That's exactly what the corporations want, things that expire naturally after 5 years!

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, the title never said "mass produced supercmputing computer using molecular sized transistors, widely available now at best buy(tm)". No buddy, it said, 'first time ever that a single molecule sized transistor has been built". It took a lot (long long way) to get here. You can yelp about 'long way to go', but getting 'here' was a bitch. You may have missed that part. In order to get to the moon, man had to learn how to fly. In order to fly, needed to know about aerodynamics, motors, engineering.

  • Feature Size (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtaylor (70602) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:26PM (#30556350) Homepage

    This would make a feature size of about 0.3nm?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheKidWho (705796)

      .3nm would be about 13 generations from now if they keep scaling down transistors at 2^.5, which would be at least 20+ years from now in everyday usage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by assemblerex (1275164) *
      I even hear it runs duke nukem forever.
  • Seems quite interesting but:

    1) Organic molecules can be quite large so it could not necessarily be a better option to current manufacturing processes.

    2) The original linked article states that "The possibility of using organic components with enzyme stimulated responses has some interesting possiblities" and I am wondering how much is reality and how much is possibility.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:15PM (#30556696)

      1) Current manufacturing process are struggling to get transistors any smaller than millions of molecules each, and Benzine, the molecule specifically used here, is not very big.

      2) Any manufactured product using this discovery is yet to be invented. Such a product is still a decade or two away. In other words, nothing other than the existance of a molecular transister is a reality, and everything else is a possibility. Duh. "Interesting Possibilities" drive science, it's mostly what these guys look for. They leave actually producing things with their discoveries to engineers.

      • by Tesla Tank (755530) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @10:11PM (#30560134)

        1) Current manufacturing process are struggling to get transistors any smaller than millions of molecules each, and Benzine, the molecule specifically used here, is not very big.

        The current state of the art manufacturing process is at 32nm, which is much less than millions of molecules each. 32nm is 320 angstrom, so we're at roughly 300 molecules size.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "1) Current manufacturing process are struggling to get transistors any smaller than millions of molecules each"

        What fucked up math are you using? In fact, where are you pulling those numbers from? Sources?

  • From TFA: (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @12:44PM (#30556480) Homepage
    "The transistor, which has a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts, could behave just like a silicon transistor." It isn't clear how large the transistor as a whole is. A benzene molecule is pretty small with only 12 atoms. That presumably isn't the entire transistor. Whether they mean benzene attached to something else isn't clear from the article. However, given that prior small transistors are on the order of 10s of atoms thick at minimum, this seems like a major improvement. It looks like Moore's law will live for a bit longer yet.
    • by causality (777677)

      "The transistor, which has a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts, could behave just like a silicon transistor." It isn't clear how large the transistor as a whole is. A benzene molecule is pretty small with only 12 atoms. That presumably isn't the entire transistor. Whether they mean benzene attached to something else isn't clear from the article. However, given that prior small transistors are on the order of 10s of atoms thick at minimum, this seems like a major improvement. It looks like Moore's law will live for a bit longer yet.

      I'd assume that this is significantly better (smaller) than existing/economical technology, else it wouldn't have become a headline. But thanks to slow news days, I've been wrong about that before.

      • by kesuki (321456)

        the only problem is to mass produce such devices one needs nano assemblers, as of 2009 only carbon nanotubes have been low yeild production. i for one would love for us to forget moores law and instead focus on needed technology for these things now not 20 years. moores law just mass produces garbage, so lets forget moores law and just build the smartest technology now, and not wait for coal to run out.

  • Not the first! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:30PM (#30556780)

    Seems remarkably similar to what other researchers have already done:

    03 Dec 2009
    "Researchers from Helsinki University of Technology (Finland), University of New South Wales (Australia), and University of Melbourne (Australia) have succeeded in building a working transistor, whose active region composes only of a single phosphorus atom in silicon. The results have just been published in Nano Letters."

    http://www.tkk.fi/en/current_affairs/news/view/yhden_atomin_transistori_loydetty/

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:35PM (#30556814)

    For anyone interested in the actual paper, it's H. Song, et al., Nature 462 p. 1039-1043

    As a (biased) researcher in the field, my opinion of this is that it is no more than an attention grab and will do little to advance science (this is pretty typical of Nature papers, though):

    1. The contacts are still very large compared to the channel (what they call the "transistor"). Without advances in scaling down contacts, you won't see a meaningful decrease in transistor density from this technology. What's more, they don't include an actual picture of the device, so there's no way to tell how big the contacts actually are.

    2. Like most researchers, they "cheat" and use a very large (probably macroscopic) back gate to modulate current. The idea of a field effect transistor is that you apply a voltage perpendicular to the direction of current, which causes charges to move along the electric field and either hinder or help transistor current by creating (or eliminating) a potential well in the transistor. In real devices, you have billions of these transistors on a single wafer and so at some point you have to actually place a local gate, which usually has a huge negative effect on transistor operation.

    3. They don't appear to have any good way of controlling how many of their transistors work (they rely on chance to get these molecules to bridge the gap between electrodes)

    While certainly thought-provoking, as an engineer I am not particularly impressed until I see them using scalable methods.

  • hard soft is like on off right?
  • I performed very similar research in a lab. The technique used is called a mechanically controllable break junction (MCBJ). Basically you make a very thin gold bridge using fairly standard e-beam nanofabrication procedures on a flexible substrate. You then bend the substrate and can thin the gold bridge down to a single atom in one-atom steps, then to a tunnel gap. You can then put this gap in a liquid (benzene or some other) and trap molecules in it. I actually did an undergrad thesis on conduction throug
  • by Stele (9443) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @12:36AM (#30560722) Homepage

    I assume once they add the Acetone and Turpentine, we'll end up with a DIP package?

  • Burnt toast might have a use now...
  • Lithographically etching silicon is something we have lot of experience with but build molecules to order to build a chip is something we don't have any infrastructure to do. Eric Dexler famously imagined nanotechnological robots to be build at the molecular scale. And once we have such robot we can use them to build molecular chips or more robots, but without such scifi-esce technology its not obvious how we could build molecular computer chips.

    ---

    Nanotech Feed @ [feeddistiller.com] Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • "functional transistor? thanks but no thanks! wake me up when they discover an object-oriented one"!!!

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