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Transistor Made From Bose-Einstein Condensate 80

holy_calamity writes "US researchers have made a transistor from a Bose-Einstein condensate. They claim it to be the first step towards 'atomic circuits' that run with atoms instead of electrons. 'A small number of atoms can be used to control the flow of a large number of atoms, in much the same way that an FET uses a gate voltage to control a large electric current,' says lead research Alex Zozulya. The abstract of their paper is freely available."
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Transistor Made From Bose-Einstein Condensate

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  • by haluness ( 219661 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:23PM (#17818604)
    Given that electrons are so much smaller (and hence faster) than atoms, wouldn't this lead to slow circuits? What is the advantage of use atoms in place of electrons?
    • More probably faster (Score:5, Informative)

      by HomelessInLaJolla ( 1026842 ) * <> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:29PM (#17818672) Homepage Journal
      More physics, more chemistry...

      Electrons are areas of probability density for energy.

      Photons are discrete packets of energy.

      Energy is related to mass, most commonly, as E=mc^2.

      In conventional circuits there is a signal passed by energy. That energy is passed in bulk as the movement of electricity, or the flux of the electron fields around the atoms which make up the conducting wire.

      If one could deal in smaller amounts of energy--say the quanta required to excite an electron from one energy level to the next--then one is dealing arguably in portions of electrons. Arguably.

      It's the same principle as the recent research using fiberobtic materials for processor fabrication. If one uses light, rather than electricity, then friction is minimized, energy lost to heat is minimized, and the bulk signal of photon flux can be modulated more quickly than the bulk signal of electron flux.

      E=mc^2. It's all the same. You can pass bowling balls or you can pass bee-bees.
      • by batquux ( 323697 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:47PM (#17818888)

        E=mc^2. It's all the same.
        One might even say it's all relative.
      • Passing bowling balls sounds painful.
      • "You can pass bowling balls or you can pass bee-bees." Given what I've passed from my kidneys, I'll stick with the bee-bees, TYVM!
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:29PM (#17818674) Homepage Journal
      Maybe it's determinism or something. Electrons jump tracks and when you speed up your switching rates, meaning you're controlling (and switching on) smaller groups of electrons, you end up with problems with electrons jumping the track. IIRC the DEC Alpha was the first CPU in which this problem cropped up and they ended up making two 45 degree turns in their paths instead of a single 90 degree turn for the first time. This comes at a cost in real estate. Perhaps it would ultimately provide an improvement in overall performance, or at least performance per unit of area.
    • by SomeoneGotMyNick ( 200685 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:37PM (#17818746) Journal
      What I gather FTA and my formal electronics training, electron based transistors control electric flow as if the electrons were a fluid substance, kind of like water, using electrical charges as the method of control. That electron flow continues to do work in the circuit. A very similar, yet different idea is inferred by using atoms. It appears that a continuous flow of electrons (continuous current drain) isn't needed for atom based transistors. I don't think gobs of atoms flow in such a circuit. Just the mere act of controlling atom flow could translate into a change of state that produces output: binary digits, waveforms, and other control circuits, etc. This will be done at a much smaller scale.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by biglig2 ( 89374 )
      Of course, but who cares? I want to say "Activate the Atomic Circuits" to my henchmen, so that means we need Atomic circuits.
      • Um, sir... we had some trouble getting the Atomic Circuits. It seems they haven't actually been invented yet, so we had to get circuits that use electrons. But they are ill-tempered electrons...
        • by biglig2 ( 89374 )
          Baron Fantastika won't be pleased... That bastard Tesla has already trademarked "Electronullifier" so he was hoping to call his ultimate weapon the "Atomonullifier"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )
      It is not the movement of the medium (electrons or atoms); it is the speed the effect across the medium.

      <NUMB3RS> Take for example a croquet ball. You could hit one ball with enough force to send it 15 feet to the hoop, but it will have to physically traverse that whole distance. But what if you had 10 feet of croquet balls in a row, one against another? You could hit the first ball with the same force and that force would be transmitted across the length of the adjoining balls faster than a lone b
    • It's not a speed issue. Atoms have a neutral electric charge, where electrons have a negative charge. Atoms moving means no net charge is moved, means no current flows, which means there is virtually no power is consumed in the process.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 )
        Just because a bunch of atoms don't have a net electrical charge doesn't mean there isn't a current flowing - it's just a current of electrically-neutral atoms (similar to the way water is net-electrically-neutral but still can form a current).

        As long as you've got some force (the pressure on the atoms) causing movement, there will be "work" done, which will cause energy usage (i.e., power) - whether or not there is an external electrical field involved. Basic Newtonian physics.
    • by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @06:54PM (#17821048)
      >>electrons are so much smaller (and hence faster) than atoms

      Electrons actually don't flow that fast through a wire. Less than a millimeter per second.

      The reason why electricity is so fast, isn't because electrons are fast. It is fast for the same reason that if you have a pipe filled with water, and you start pumping more water in one side, water gushes out the other side immediately a great distance away, even though water isn't flowing through the pipe that quickly. This happens because although the water is slow, the pressure increases along the pipe much faster. Water is more or less incompressible, so pressure on one side of the pipe causes each water molecule in succession to transfer the pressure through it into the next without moving the molecules closer together by much. Thus the water moves almost as a single block, the force itself being only limited by the speed of light (ideally).

      Similarly, although electrons are relatively slow to move, the voltage or electric pressure moves through the wire at the speed of light (practically at about 1/3 that speed). It is *this* speed barrier that we are currently running into in computer design, where the slowness of the speed of light over a few centimeters on a mother board will cause the signals in wires to get out of sync if one wire is slightly longer than the other. This happens there because although the voltage is moving incredibly fast, the clock rate of the circuitry is something like a billion oscillations a second. An electric pulse will only move slightly less than 10 centimeters in a billionth of a second.
      • I recall one old saying "Remember your nanoseconds..."

        Nanoseconds was meaning the time it takes for an electrical impulse to travel down 12 inches of low-resistance (for that time,) copper wire. This was a female Admiral in the Navy, responsible for Fortran, IIRC.

        So electrons travel that slow? Which particle travels that fast to allow near-instant current, if not the electron? I'm really curious, as this has always stumped me.
        • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
          So electrons travel that slow?

          The electrons that make up regular current flowing in a conductor, yes.

          If you want fast electrons, you'll need to accelerate them, preferably in a vacuum, using at least a couple of kV of voltage. Then you'll get to relativistic speeds.

        • An excellent post, but I have to throw in a few minor corrections.

          1. The "nanosecond" was a foot long piece of wire showing how far light travelled in that amount of time. The good Admiral used these wires to explain the latency in satellite communications. She later used them to show why computers needed to get smaller in order to get faster.

          2. Admiral Grace Hopper was responsible for the design and development of the COBOL language. Fortran was invented by IBM's John Backus.

          3. The travel of electrons is n
          • by Khyber ( 864651 )
            Thanks for the clarification. I knew about the vacuum speed. I was confused in regards to the language and the meaning of the explanations. That was quite informative, and if I could, I'd mod you up, but no mod points, and no anonymous posting. Let's hope someone else mods you up!
      • Thus the water moves almost as a single block, the force itself being only limited by the speed of light (ideally).

        Umm... With water, I think you mean the speed of sound. That's - by definition - the speed of an acoustic (i.e. mechanical) wave, the speed at which pressure changes propagate in a given substance. The speed of sound in water is quite high, but not quite the same order of magnitude as the speed of light. An electron, with its charge, is a quite different beast.
  • by alexwcovington ( 855979 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:28PM (#17818654) Journal
    Behold, Quantum computing is at hand!
  • TFA (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    TFA said "could be made" not "made"

    Fscking slashtards
  • uh (Score:5, Funny)

    by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:29PM (#17818670) Homepage
    Transistor Made From Bose-Einstein Condensate
  • Bose Einstein? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:32PM (#17818692)
    Bose Einstein? I bet that's one mighty expensive (and vastly underperforming) transistor radio...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by blueturffan ( 867705 )
      The Bose Einstein Motto: No bass, relatively speaking
  • Ah hah! (Score:3, Funny)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:35PM (#17818734) Homepage Journal
    I knew my Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky bridge machine was missing something! Computer circuits powered by Einstein-Bose Condensate! It's so simple! With this new invention, I'll be able to communicate with the machine back on my world, but never (for reasons yet unknown to science) tell it to retrieve me!

    Hmm. That could be a problem. I better remember to set the timer...
    • I knew my Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky bridge machine was missing something! Computer circuits powered by Einstein-Bose Condensate! It's so simple!
      Man, I wish I knew why that was funny. It sounds cool, and I want one ... I just have no idea of what it means. ;-)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Lurker2288 ( 995635 )
        Unless I'm mistaken, it's a reference to the old sci-fi show 'Sliders' in which boy genius Jerry O'Connell's Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky bridge machine sends him and a bunch of hapless comrades traveling from one parallel world to another with no way to get home.
  • by maynard ( 3337 ) <j.maynard.gelina ... minus cat> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:41PM (#17818792) Journal
    To form a Bose Einstein Condensate, the atoms must be cooled to a fraction of 0 degrees Kelvin. How could this ever be used in a practical application?
    • by eataTREE ( 7407 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:04PM (#17819170)
      With a really, really, really big heat sink.
    • by Skewray ( 896393 )
      If the entire CPU is small enough, then the volume that requires cooling to a fraction of a degree is pretty small.
      • by maynard ( 3337 )
        Yeah, OK. But the current lithography state-of-the-art is 45nm. Assuming we're talking about atomic gates, that's somewhere around an order of magnitude shrinkage for comparison. So, for a complex device, one would still need a macroscopic cooling system - at least several mm2. Can laser cooling really do that? I thought the trap had to be much much smaller... (corrections?)
        • by Skewray ( 896393 )
          Photolithography is probably not the method of choice for making quantum wells with on the order of 100 atoms, so the 45 nm limit doesn't really apply. Something like this would have to be made my electron holography or some similarly sounding science-fictiony method. Making something small without blowing all of the atoms away in the process is hard.
          • by maynard ( 3337 )
            Yeah, right. The point is to make a size comparison, not to argue that photolithography is appropriate for burning ~4nm structures. My point is simply that if a modern 45nm chip die might be ~200mm2, that a chip comprised of ~4nm gates would still be a very macroscopic device.
    • And you thought keeping your overclocked P4 cool was difficult ... Liquid nitrogen cooling is so passé, you're nobody without a femtosecond pulsed laser these days.
    • [Warning: I have no idea what I'm talking about here...]

      Well, we can make really tiny lasers. And there's a way to use lasers to cool stuff. If you could find a way to isolate the BEC and use active laser cooling, maybe you could turn this into something practical.

    • >the atoms must be cooled to a fraction of 0 degrees Kelvin
      But exactly *what* fraction of 0 K?
    • Don't expect this to be the Next Best Thing in CPU technology. The only foreseeable practical applications are in fundamental physics research, eg. precision measurements, and possibly quantum computing.

      Quoting the paper, "The device is not optimized for performance but is arguably the simplest possible geometry showing behavior reminiscent of a transistor." This is just one of the first steps. Using BEC to make a functional quantum computer is a long way off.

      I am a postgraduate student studying BEC, an

    • Build your computer on Pluto. Then you only need to cool the thing a few K from ambient temperature.
    • the atoms must be cooled to a fraction of 0 degrees

      A fraction of 0? Is that less than a fraction of 1?

  • Yeah, but can you overclock it?
  • That it would be much more stable would it not? I don't know what kind of power usage it would be, and to hazard a guess, its probably not an improvement, I think they would have mentioned it. But, it might be a more reliable option, in the sense that it might be more resistant to electric surges, from say a lightning storm or something along those lines. I can't see it becoming a consumer level product, but for more specialized purposes.
  • Although this might not be terribly usefull for computation, if atomic scale digital logic flow control can be perfected, it might be possible to use it for something far cooler than drexlers nanotechnological assemblers... something more akin to star trek 'replicators' (albeit at near absolute zero)... digitally controlled control of the position of single atoms could revolutionize manufacturing... wouldn't it be funny if the only way we ever manage to achieve the manufacturing precision to make a nanotech
  • Regarding the Bose-Einstein condensate.
    Maybe finally someone will find explanation for Bose Nova phenomenon: []

    It's like small thermonuclear explosion and seems like good explanation of all that Cold Fusion stuff: []

  • They give the abstract away, but you have to pay for anything worth reading.

  • What does Einstein's preference for speakers and headphones have to do with it? He's dead, he can't hear anything!
  • ... what a great name for a microbrew in the right high tech community.

  • RTFA Much?
  • "Beowulf Cluster"

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN