May 24, 2010

Atom-Sized Electronic Switch Unveiled

On Monday, Australian scientists unveiled the world's smallest electronic switch measuring just a few atoms, which will shrink microchips and revolutionize computing speeds.

The seven-atom transistor is the first step in a "quantum computer" which will make calculations millions of times faster than existing devices.

Michelle Simmons, the lead researcher, said the technology has major implications for code breaking, financial transactions and weather forecasting, which involve testing enormous numbers of possible scenarios.

"You'll be able to solve problems that would take longer than the life of the universe with a classical computer," she told AFP.

The University of New South Wales' Center for Quantum Computer Technology (CQCT) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison created the new technology by using a special microscope to manipulate atoms.

The breakthrough promises to reduce the size of microchips, which contain billions of transistors simultaneously accelerating processing speeds "exponentially."

"Australia's first computer was commissioned in 1949. It took up an entire room and you could hold its components in your hands," Simmons told AFP.

"Today you can carry a computer around in your hand and many of its components are more than 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

"Now we have just demonstrated the world's first electronic device in silicon systematically created on the scale of individual atoms."

She said that commercial applications for the technology were still five years away.  Simmons team is now working towards the first ultra-fast quantum computer, predicted to be the size of a current silicone chip.

The researchers published their findings in teh recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology.


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