To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.
Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics.
The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. This steady progress makes it possible to carry around computers in our pockets, but poses serious challenges. As feature sizes dwindle to the level of atoms, the resistance to current no longer increases at a consistent rate as devices shrink; instead the resistance "jumps around," displaying the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics, says McGill Physics professor Peter Grtter.
"You could use the analogy of a water hose," Grtter explains. "If you keep the water pressure constant, less water comes out as you reduce the diameter of the hose. But if you were to shrink the hose to the size of a straw just two or three atoms in diameter, the outflow would no longer decline at a rate proportional to the hose cross-sectional area; it would vary in a quantized ('jumpy') way."
This "quantum weirdness" is exactly what the McGill and General Motors researchers observed, as described in a new paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated an ultra-small contact between gold and tungsten, two metals currently used in combination in computer chips to connect different functional com
|Contact: Chris Chipello|