Researchers ‘break’ laws of physics with 1-nanometre transistor

7 Oct 2016

These transistors are much, much bigger than one nanometre. Image: pockethifi/Shutterstock

They said it couldn’t be done, but a team of researchers has managed to ‘break’ the laws of physics with a one-nanometre transistor gate, one-fifth of the size of the supposed limit.

The world of electronics just got a lot more interesting with this latest transistor gate breakthrough, given that our current laws of physics supposedly made it impossible to create a gate smaller than five nanometres.

A team from the Berkeley Lab in California has come forward to say physics be damned, after the creation of a transistor with a working gate of just one nanometre.

Future Human

By comparison, the width of an average human hair is 50,000 nanometres, while the average high-end transistor gate measures 20 nanometres across.

Current electronics rely on a gate to control the flow of electricity from the source to the drain controlling the device’s actions, and if we are able to shrink it to smaller and smaller sizes, it also means we can shrink fundamental electronics, too.

Offering great hope for the continuation of Moore’s Law, the research team explained in Science that this feat was achieved using the combination of carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulphide (MoS2), otherwise known as car engine lubricant.

Transistor gate illustration

A schematic of a transistor with a molybdenum disulphide channel and one nanometre carbon nanotube gate. Image: Sujay Desai/Berkeley Lab

Still just a proof of concept

While both silicon and MoS2 have a crystalline lattice structure, silicon allows the electrons to move much easier than MoS2. This is helpful for gates over five nanometres but below this level, quantum mechanics makes things incredibly tricky.

So tricky in fact, that the transistor gate loses the ability to control the flow of electrons. However, the addition of MoS2 scaled down to atomically-thin sheets of just 0.65 nanometres, combined with the one nanometre carbon nanotubes, has made things that bit easier.

Resulting measurements from the new transistor – that is considered quite the achievement of engineering – showed that it could effectively control the flow of electrons.

Speaking of the breakthrough, lead researcher Ali Javey said: “This work demonstrated the shortest transistor ever. However, it’s a proof of concept. We have not yet packed these transistors onto a chip, and we haven’t done this billions of times over. We also have not developed self-aligned fabrication schemes for reducing parasitic resistances in the device.”

He continued: “But this work is important to show that we are no longer limited to a five nanometre gate for our transistors. Moore’s Law can continue a while longer by proper engineering of the semiconductor material and device architecture.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic