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Science Technology

New Nanodevice Creates a Near Perfect Electron Stream 98

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-cross-the-streams dept.
SchrodingerZ writes "Scientists from the National Physics Laboratory of the United Kingdom have teamed up with the University of Cambridge to create a new electron pump that creates a single electron stream. "The device drives electrical current by manipulating individual electrons, one-by-one at very high speed." The pump takes single electrons, and pushes it over a barrier with an indent for the electron to fall into, and is then sent to the opposite side of the barrier with astounding precision. "By employing this technique, the team were able to pump almost a billion electrons per second, 300 times faster than the previous record for an accurate electron pump set at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA in 1996." Although the current was very small (150 picoamperes), this event could cause a shift from the ampere measure of current to a smaller, more precise unit of measurement for electrical current."
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New Nanodevice Creates a Near Perfect Electron Stream

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  • NPL web site appears to be offline at the time of this post. Maybe they couldn't handle the deluge of electrons headed their way. Science Daily link okay though.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Free energy, a new golden age ... If they can manipulate individual electrons then for sure they can manipulate individual molecules. This is even greater than sliced bread.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell's_demon [wikipedia.org]

    #t33 h33 lol#

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The last sentence was literally one of the stupidest things I've ever read here.

    • by siddesu (698447)
      Not to mention that the Thomson is already taken, and the Millikan would be an unfortunate choice, as people will uncontrollably multiply it by a thousand.
    • by durrr (1316311)

      You mean using picoamps instead of amps wouldn't be a huge revolution?

      • Enter....

        The electron-per-second
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Also known as the "Coulomb".

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      The last sentence was literally one of the stupidest things I've ever read here.

      I agree.

      1) Precise is precise. It either is or it isn't. Saying "more precise" is like saying "more pregnant".

      2) "Amps" is dependent on voltage. If they replace anything it would be the Coulomb, not the Ampere.

      • by psmears (629712)

        2) "Amps" is dependent on voltage.

        Umm... are you sure about that?

        • by siddesu (698447)
          If you happen to measure either charge or time in volts, it is.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by CatBandit (866637)

            Sorry but no.

            Ampers measures electric current flow.
            Volts mesaures voltage potencial.

            In some cases there is a relationship (by the means of an ideal source and an ideal resistor), but "Amps is dependent on voltage only in a specific case".

      • 1) Precise is precise. It either is or it isn't. Saying "more precise" is like saying "more pregnant".

        Do you work in the real world? There are varying levels of precision used in different contexts. Saying you're increasing the precision is entirely valid.

        For example, a financial system that calculates using 2 digits of precision to the right of the decimal. It can be made "more precise" by using calculations that include 4 digits of precision to the right of the decimal.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        1) Precise is precise. It either is or it isn't. Saying "more precise" is like saying "more pregnant".

        Precision is a measurable quantity. If something is "precise," it meets some arbitrary threshold of precision. That doesn't mean it can't be more precise.

        Put another way, determine the precision of a measurement that is "precise." Now double the precision. Is the measurement "more precise?" Yes it is.

    • by daem0n1x (748565)

      No, it wasn't! It's about time we got rid of those communist nanny state pot smoking smelly hippie abortionist islam-lover lesbian ways of measuring currents and got ourselves a true American Patriot unit of measurement!

      I suggest using the Patriot = 373.245 microamperes, and its subdivisions, the Liberty = 1/17 Patriots and the Apple Pie = 163/467 Liberties.

      There, that should make our calculations a lot easier and our electrons a lot more macho than those wimpy Euro-electrons.

  • Errr (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @09:26PM (#40624057)

    "The pump takes single electrons, and pushes it over a barrier with an indent for the electron to fall into, and is then sent to the opposite side of the barrier with astounding precision. "

    What is pushed over the barrier? What is sent to the opposite side of the barrier?

    Sentences like this need rewriting, at the very least until they actually make some semantic sense.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The pump pushes it (you know, "it") over a barrier. Then the pump is sent to the opposite side of the barrier. What does it mean? I don't know. My physics knowledge appears to be insufficient.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Too bad no one seems to be able to use this technology to make a Moray Valve (link [world-mysteries.com]).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Is that a valve that selectively lets through moray eels, but blocks all other Anguilliformes?
      • by sjames (1099)

        Yes. The hope is that once perfected, it can be re-tuned to admit electric eels and so, give us free energy.

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @09:37PM (#40624109)
    Can any science/physics gurus tell me what sort of practical applications this has?
  • by p0p0 (1841106) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @10:01PM (#40624225)
    We focus protons the same and we can start catching some ghosts.
    Who you gonna call? SCIENCE!
  • I notice that it is a NEAR perfect stream. Would the perfect stream consist of only particles and no waves?
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      It would consist of no particles or waves. A dark matter smoke ring would do the trick.

  • could cause a shift from the ampere measure of current to a smaller, more precise unit of measurement for electrical current

    This made no sense to me, and it turns out that what the article says is that one might want to formulate a new definition of the ampere. What do the editors do, really?

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      It made perfect sense to me, though it was still stupid. What I understood from that line was that they wanted to come up with a new unit to actually replace the ampere, at least for small-scale currents, perhaps sort of like the Angstrom is used instead of nanometers in some fields. Of course, this is entirely different from redefining the ampere, which from the way you write it I take to mean they want a new way to reproduce it, much like they changed the definition of the meter many years ago from "the

      • by psmears (629712)

        Anyway, coming up with a new unit seems stupid to me. The whole reason SI units use prefixes like mega, giga, milli, micro, nano, pico, femto, etc. is so that you don't need new units for different scales, you just use the appropriate prefix. If this thing is in the picoamps, what's the problem? Aren't picoamps good enough?

        You're right, that would be stupid—and, despite what the summary tries to tell us, that's not actually what the article's suggesting.

        The ampere is currently (no pun intended) defined as the amount of current that must flow in two parallel wires a specific distance apart, in order to get a certain amount of (magnetic) force between them. (The Coulomb is then defined as the amount of charge that flows past a point in one second when the current is one Ampere.) That definition is good enough for most pur

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Yep, sounds exactly like when they redefined the meter to some number of wavelengths of some light emission.

          Anyway, it sure would be nice if Slashdot had some real editors that didn't blindly accept such horribly-written article summaries.

      • much like they changed the definition of the meter many years ago from "the length of this exotic metal alloy rod" to "the distance of x number of wavelengths of some radioactive emission".

        That is an old definition. Current one is distance light travels in 1/299792458 of a second in a vacuum.

        Which has the convenient benefit of us no longer having to change the speed of light whenever we get a more precise measurement of said speed.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @10:42PM (#40624417)

    A billion electrons per-second = 1x10^9 which is a lot less than 1A.
    A billion electrons per-second = 10^9/6.241x10^18 = 0.160nA = 160pA = 160x10^(-12) A (160 pico-amperes so pretty much the number in the article).

    So while this might be a whole wack load electrons for this type of device it really is not much.

    Also it might make you respect your hose wiring a little more.
    Your 200A house service is (200*1A) = 1.2482x10^21 electrons per second.

    • I doubt the applications are about powering a motor so much as moving data with less need for error correction
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Your house service is AC at a nice integer frequency, so you end up with 0 electrons per second.

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      Keep in mind that AC current just jiggles the same electrons in place, back and forth in a sine wave of velocity. The net number of electrons transferred past a point over time is approximately zero, modulo net jitter.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:25AM (#40624887) Homepage

    The idea here is to define the ampere as N electrons per second. This may make that possible. The number is around 6.241 Ã-- 10^18 electrons per second. Direct counts of electrons allow a precise, repeatable way to define an amp.

    The goal is to define the fundamental units from measurable properties of the universe, so that reproduceable standards can be constructed. That's been achieved for time and length, but not mass. You can buy an atomic clock that gets its time measurement from the definition of the second. (HP used to make those, but that business was sold off from Agilent in 2006.) There's a method with a Kr-86 light source and interferometers to count out a meter in wavelengths of light. But there's no corresponding standard for mass. Mass is tied to a physical 1Kg weight stored in France, and everything has to be traced back to that, with each successive derived standard kilogram a little less accurate.

    A kilogram ought to be defined as N atoms of something, but atom counting isn't quite good enough yet. There's a plan to define mass through the Planck constant, which means tying the standard of mass to the standard of current.

    Three fundamental units are sufficient to lock down all the other units, and this is a step towards doing that.

    • by walshy007 (906710) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:53AM (#40625019)

      A kilogram ought to be defined as N atoms of something, but atom counting isn't quite good enough yet. There's a plan to define mass through the Planck constant, which means tying the standard of mass to the standard of current.

      This has been done, with a specific sized sphere (in atoms) of silicon [theage.com.au]

      • by aXis100 (690904)

        Yeah but who really expects a silicon sphere to stay perfectly stable over time? Abrasion, moisture, surface contamination etc will all affect the phsyical artifact.

        By counting electrons, we have a discrete, repeatable and *reproducable* measure.

        • by walshy007 (906710)

          If you had read the article, you would know that this is going to be a "discrete, repeatable and reproducable" measure. I mean hell they are making two of them to start with, the only reason I imagine they aren't making more to start off with is cost.

          The end product will be the exact way to construct a 1kg sphere of silicon. So new ones can be made to calibrate things etc.

      • They didn't. That article claims that they planned to do it, but they couldn't achieve the necessary precision. (For an entire kilogram of mass, it is astonishing how far they got.)

        Turns out that defining the Plank constant is much easier than the Avogadro constant. Anyway, CIPM decided to define both, and left the atomic mass unit floating.

  • How much energy difference is there between the two electron spin states?

    Could a device like this electron streamer have added a nanodevice that sets the electron's spin before it's emitted? What's the practical minimum feasible energy consumption of setting each electron's spin? And thus the energy efficiency of such a spin setter.

  • We can make better displays with this right - now one electron wide pixels!

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @08:29AM (#40627339)

    Although the current was very small (150 picoamperes), this event could cause a shift from the ampere measure of current to a smaller, more precise unit of measurement for electrical current.

    They should name the unit something related to electricity which takes parts of the picoamperes name so it sounds sort of like it. I've got it! Pikachus!

  • being able to direct where electrons go could be a huge improvement in efficiency for LEDs. Being able to funnel the electrons directly to the quantum wells built into the p-n junction could result in an output increase of great significance.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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