In the scientific race to build smaller, faster electronic devices, the Holy Grail is the development of nano-scale machines that can transmit information at the atomic level.
Now a UWindsor physicist and his team of collaborators have created a theoretical model containing what they say is proof that it can actually happen. Details of that model were recently published in an article that appeared in the academic journal Nano Letters.
“We have a device that transmits information at the atomic scale, and also allows you to filter the information that gets sent through,” said Physics professor Eugene Kim. “We’ve demonstrated that you can control that process in real time, and that’s something that hasn’t been done before.”
Dr. Kim’s recent article describes a theoretical prediction which he says provides the building blocks of how it might be done, and it basically relies upon the magnetic properties of particular atoms to store and send information.
“Our building blocks are magnetic atoms,” said Kim, who was born and raised in Chicago and educated at University of California at Santa Barbara. “They’re the smallest magnets you can get – they’re single atoms.”
The basis of Kim’s device is a quantum corral, an elliptical formation of atoms pieced together in a way that’s analogous to previous experiments conducted by other scientists using a technique called scanning tunnelling microscopy. Kim and his team developed a series of formulas that predict how information can be transmitted through a filter from one end of the corral to the other.
“We found that this device can manipulate the properties of what we put inside the ellipse,” he explained. “We basically have a knob now that we can use to manipulate the properties of and signatures of atoms inside the ellipse.”
This device overcomes the limitations our present-day electronics, which operate by controlling the flow of electrical current along circuit paths defined by wires and other conducting areas, Kim said. It also enables the storage and manipulation of information at the smallest scales.
“You could encode a page of information in just a few atoms,” he said.
Kim said the findings further demonstrate the possibilities afforded by going beyond the old top-down approach of making electronic devices.
“The way devices are typically made is you start with a chunk of material and cut it down,” he said. “By building them from the bottom up, atom by atom, you can fabricate ultrasmall devices with carefully tuned properties, which take advantage of the unique physics arising at such small scales.”
Now that Kim and his team have demonstrated such a device in principle, they’re consulting with German scientists to determine if it can be demonstrated in real applications by conducting more experiments in their lab.
“They’ve shown a lot of enthusiasm and interest in our results,” Kim said.