World's First Single-Electron Transistor Works Like a Teeny, Tiny Etch-A-Sketch

It's amazing what an electron can do. Researchers, lead by a team from the University of Pittsburgh, have built the world's first operational single-electron transistor, the SketchSET, which could become an essential component of all sorts of futuristic technologies; from super-dense, high-capacity solid-state drives to quantum processors.

The idea is simple: start with an "island" of atoms capable of holding an additional electron or two at the convergence point of three nanowires atop of a lanthanum aluminate substrate. Then, using the sharp conducting probe of an atomic force microscope, you can make an electron tunnel through the wires and onto the "island" creating a transistor with differing conductive states depending on how many additional electrons are present. The entire field can then be erased and reused—like an Etch-A-Sketch. OK, maybe it's not so simple. But it's important!

The thing about a transistor of this size is that it can basically sidestep that whole Moore's Law buzzkill—as well as physical limitations imposed by current production methods. You get more computing power in the same amount of space. And the ferroelectric nature of the transistors (they can retain their state without external power) means that they can be used for super-high-capacity solid-state drives. So yeah, huzzah for the single-electron transistor. We'll check back with you when SketchSET moves from the lab to the LAN party. [Science Daily]

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