The World’s Smallest Transistor

July 22, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

An international team has created a transistor consisting of a single molecule along with a small number of atoms; Moore's law may be officially shattered.

A team composed of physicists from around the world has just created a tiny transistor made of a single molecule and 12 atoms-- it is officially the smallest transistor ever created and possibly the smallest transistor that ever will be created, which means Moore's Law may now be just a remnant of the 20th century. 

The phthalocyanine molecule surrounded by twelve indium atoms on an indium arsenide surface.

The new transistor will allow for fundament studies of electron transport in molecular nanostructures. The team was able to create the transistor through the use of a highly stable tunneling microscope that positioned the transistor on the surface of an indium arsenide crystal. Using the highly stable tunneling microscope allowed for the physicists to assemble electrical gates with atomic precision, then place the molecule at the desired positions close to the gates.

In the past, maintaining control of the flow of electrons at an atomic scale has been a difficulty, as the electrons can jump outside of the transistor, rendering it useless. However, this transistor has yielded unexpected behavior: at the heart of the transistor lies a single molecule of phthalocyanine, an intense blue-green compound normally used in dyes that, as Dr. Steven Erwin, a physicist in the Center for Computational Materials Science at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, says, "...adopts different rotational orientations, depending on its charge state. We predicted this based on first-principles calculations and confirmed it by imaging the molecule with the STM."

Now, these tiny transistors can be harnessed for computer power and aid the trajectory toward quantum computing