Studies have recently shown tiny wires made by precisely placing chains of phosphorus atoms within a silicon crystal has been proven to have excellent electrical conductivity. The new silicon wire is four atoms wide and one atom tall showing that "electrical resistivity" — or ease with which the current can flow — definitely doesn't depend on wire width.
Researchers working on the study were able to get the wire to the atomic level by using a technique called scanning tunneling microscopy. It allows scientists to image individual atoms and to manipulate them and place them in position.
The study, detailed in the journal Science, opens up the hope silicon wires can serve to connect the atomic scale components of quantum computers.
It also reinforces a basic fundamental of physics — Ohm's law — that states conducting a current between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points.
"It is extraordinary to show that such a basic law still holds even when constructing a wire from the fundamental building blocks of nature — atoms," says Bent Weber, lead author of the study and a PhD student at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia.
With computer chips getting exponentially faster and smaller, the future of the microelectronics industry is silicon based quantum computers in which atoms will be the units of computation. In fact, scientists are on the verge of making transistors out of individual atoms, but without wire at the same small scale to connect them, computing would have been impossible.
With this new finding it seems the computing industry is poised on the edge of some very big changes — and ironically those changes mean getting smaller.
Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne, both in Australia and Purdue University in the U.S. all worked on the study.