Robert Wolkow is no stranger to mastering the ultra-small and the ultra-fast. A pioneer in atomic-scale science with a Guinness World Record to boot (for a needle with a single atom at the point), Wolkow’s team, together with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, have just released findings that detail how to create atomic switches for electricity, many times smaller than what is currently used. With applications for practical systems like silicon semi-conductor electronics, it means smaller, more efficient, more energy-conserving nanocomputers, as just one example of the technology revolution that is unfolding right before our very eyes (if you can squint that hard).
“It’s something you don’t even hear about yet, but atom-scale manufacturing is going to be world-changing. This is just the beginning of what will be at least a century of developments in atom-scale manufacturing, and it will be transformational“. “This is the first time anyone’s seen a switching of a single-atom channel,” explains Wolkow, a physics professor at the University of Alberta and the Principal Research Officer at Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology. “You’ve heard of a transistor—a switch for electricity—well, our switches are almost a hundred times smaller than the smallest on the market today.”
Today’s tiniest transistors operate at the 14 nanometer level, which still represents thousands of atoms. Wolkow’s and his team at the University of Alberta, NINT, and his spinoff QSi, have worked the technology down to just a few atoms. Since computers are simply a composition of many on/off switches, the findings point the way not only to ultra-efficient general purpose computing but also to a new path to quantum computing.