Australian and American physicists have built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal.
The group of physicists, based at the University of New South Wales and Purdue University, said they had laid the groundwork for a futuristic quantum computer that might one day function in a nanoscale world and would be orders of magnitude smaller and quicker than today’s silicon-based machines. The device comes with small visible markers that are etched onto its surface in order for researchers to connect metal contacts and apply a voltage. A scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) is used to see and manipulate atoms at the surface of the crystal within an ultra-high vacuum chamber, and thanks to the implementation of a lithographic process, the researchers managed to pattern phosphorus atoms into functional devices on the crystal. A non-reactive layer of hydrogen covers it then, where it is good to go. According to Moore’s Law, commercial single-atom transistors might see action in approximately 8 years’ time.