This month saw two critical nanoscale computing breakthroughs, both by U.S. researchers. One breakthrough involved the production of arguably the smallest transition ever, while another saw the production of one of the most compact storage formats to date. Together they represent the bold and impressive gains that the hardware industry continues to see as computers conversely shrink and become more functional.
The first breakthrough was accomplished by a team led by Jeremy Levy of the University of Pittsburgh. The team developed arguably the world's new tiniest transistor. The transistor consisted of two ceramic nanocrystal plates of lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate opposite each other. Naturally insulators, these materials conduct electricity when sandwiched together. By etching a tiny conducting wire between the two materials, a transistor was formed consisting of a mere handful of atoms.
Professor Levy describes, "The transistor we made is arguably the smallest (transistor) that has ever been produced in a deterministic and reliable fashion. And we did it using an instrument that can be miniaturized down to the size of a wristwatch."
The new atom-sized transistor could allow next generation mobile processors to have as much processing power as current high-end gaming processors, all while maintaining a strict power budget. The hardware industry's top players are very excited about the new work. Alexander Bratkovsky, a scientist for Hewlett-Packard Co, explains, "In terms of simplicity, it's striking."
A second key advance was delivered by a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of California Berkeley. The team devised an impressive new method for super-dense storage which provides by far the densest stable storage layer to date.
Previous efforts had looked at using polymeric thin films of semiconductor, as the medium could store very dense concentrations of data. However, when spread over a surface, these films lost their structure and fell apart.
Using heated sapphire crystals, a team led by Thomas Russell of the University of Massachusetts created a pattern of ridges that gave the polymeric film a guide to latch onto. States Professor Russell, "We applied a simple concept to solve several problems at once, and it really worked out."
With the technology, he says perfect arrays of semiconductor 15 times as dense as any previously achieved format were possible. The team achieved a density of 10 terabits per square inch, or approximately 1,164 GB per square inch. He describes the incredible promises of this, surmising, "With the densities we describe you could store 250 DVDs on a surface the size of a quarter."
Both studies are published in the journal of Science. The abstract for the transistor study is available here, while the abstract for the high density polymeric storage breakthrough can be found here.