An UAlberta research team is developing atom-scale, ultra-low-power computing devices to replace transistor circuits. In the drive to get small, Robert Wolkow and his lab at the University of Alberta are taking giant steps forward. The digital age has resulted in a succession of smaller, cleaner and less power-hungry technologies since the days the personal computer fit atop a desk, replacing mainframe models that once filled entire rooms. Desktop PCs have since given way to smaller and smaller laptops, smartphones and devices that most of us carry around in our pockets. But as Wolkow points out, this technological shrinkage can only go so far when using traditional transistor-based integrated circuits. That’s why he and his research team are aiming to build entirely new technologies at the atomic scale.
“Our ultimate goal is to make ultra-low-power electronics because that’s what is most demanded by the world right now,” said Wolkow, the iCORE Chair in Nanoscale Information and Communications Technology in the Faculty of Science. “We are approaching some fundamental limits that will stop the 30-year-long drive to make things faster, cheaper, better and smaller; this will come to an end soon. “An entirely new method of computing will be necessary.”
Wolkow and his team in the U of A’s physics department and the National Institute for Nanotechnology are working to engineer atomically precise technologies that have practical, real-world applications. His lab already made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for inventing the world’s sharpest object—a microscope tip just one atom wide at its end.