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Physicists Create a Working Transistor From a Single Atom

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the tiny-hardware dept.

Science 127

stupendou writes "Australian and American physicists have built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal. The group of physicists, based at the University of New South Wales and Purdue University, said they had laid the groundwork for a futuristic quantum computer that might one day function in a nanoscale world and would be orders of magnitude smaller and quicker than today's silicon-based machines."

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127 comments

Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maciel (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095319)

GreatBunzinni [slashdot.org] , real name Rui Maciel, has been using anonymous posts [slashdot.org] to accuse almost 20 accounts of being employed by a PR firm to astroturf Slashdot, without any evidence. Using multiple puppet accounts, he mods up these anonymous posts while modding down the target accounts in order to censor their viewpoints off of Slashdot. GreatBunzinni accidentally outed himself [slashdot.org] as the anonymous troll who has been posting these accusations to every Slashdot story. For example, he wrote the same post almost verbatim, first using his logged-in account [slashdot.org] followed by an anonymous post [slashdot.org] days later. Note the use of the same script and wording.

It turns out GreatBunzinni is actually a 31-year-old C++/Java programmer from Almada, Portugal named Rui Maciel, with a civil engineering degree from Instituto Superior Técnico and a hobby working with electronics. He runs Kubuntu and is active on the KDE mailing list. Rui Maciel has accounts at OSNews, Launchpad, ProgrammersHeaven, the Ubuntu forums, and of course Slashdot.

Most of the users who Rui targets have done nothing more than commit the sin of praising a competitor to Google at some point in the past. Many of them are subscribers who often get the first post, since subscribers see stories earlier than non-subscribers. After one of Rui's accusations is posted as a reply, the original post receives a surge of "Troll" and "Overrated" moderations from his puppet accounts, while the accusatory post gets modded up. Often, additional anonymous posters suddenly pop up to give support, which also receive upmods. At the same time, accused users who defend themselves are modded down as "Offtopic."

Rui Maciel's contact information
Email: greatbunzinni@gmail.com [mailto] , greatbunzinni@engineer.com [mailto] , or rui.maciel@gmail.com [mailto]
IM: greatbunzinni@jabber.org [jabber] (the same Jabber account currently listed on his Slashdot account)
Blog: http://rui_maciel.users.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]
Programming projects: http://www.programmersheaven.com/user/GreatBunzinni/contributions [programmersheaven.com]

Known puppet accounts used by Rui Maciel
Galestar [slashdot.org]
NicknameOne [slashdot.org]
Nicknamename [slashdot.org]
Nerdfest [slashdot.org]
Toonol [slashdot.org]
anonymov [slashdot.org]
chrb [slashdot.org]
flurp [slashdot.org]
forkfail [slashdot.org]
psiclops [slashdot.org]
rreyelts [slashdot.org]
russotto [slashdot.org]
zidium [slashdot.org]

tl;dr: An Ubuntu fan named Rui Maciel is actively trolling Slashdot with multiple moderator accounts to filter dissenting opinions off the site.

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (2, Insightful)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095359)

This is getting old. Could you do something productive like talking about Area 51, Anal Probes by Aliens, or whether or not Han shot first?

Anything else please...

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095415)

It's easy for you to dismiss it when you're not one of the 20 accounts regularly getting modbombed. Notice how you got +4 Insightful from Rui Maciel's puppet accounts even though this whole thread is off-topic.

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (5, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095579)

As someone who's been routinely getting "-1, Overrated" on many of my posts for about a year, I most say: Do shut up already.

In the time it takes to downmod someone, a few people have seen the opposing post, and likely agreed, or at least posted something in response that's likely to generate more interest in the original. With the high volume of traffic Slashdot gets, even 20 accounts isn't enough to obliterate any opinion to a reasonable degree. One particularly controversial post of mine managed to get every single moderation, before ending up at "+4, Interesting". I had over a dozen "flamebait", "troll", and "overrated" mods.

Mod gaming is a known problem. Slashdot's system is still above average in my opinion, and has the benefit of enough wide participation (and light enough consequences) that it doesn't matter. Sure, it's disheartening to see one of my deeply-thought-out statements misunderstood, but it's Slashdot. It's not like anything said here has a high probability of drastically changing the world.

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095481)

have there been OVER 9000 of these things yet?

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (-1, Offtopic)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095557)

have there been OVER 9000 of these things yet?

Anal probes by aliens? It's possible, but not everyone reports it. Good question.

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39096625)

I fucking loved playing Area 51 [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098527)

This is getting old. Could you do something productive like talking about Area 51, Anal Probes by Aliens, or whether or not Han shot first?

Anything else please...

Han shot the Anal Probe first! And it happened in Area 51!

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095409)

Your mom fucks fried frogs in France, fucker!

Also, stop spamming this shit. For fucks sake.

Re:Mod manipulation by GreatBunzinni, aka Rui Maci (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095543)

You two are really obsessed with each other.. you should really get a room.

I know what you're thinking: that's stupid.. we're both guys, and I'm not gay.

You're confused about your sexuality, and you're feelings for each other. You're concerned about your repressed latent homosexuality.

But this 2012, and most people are ok with other peoples sexual orientation.

So please, will you two just hook up already? The rest of us are getting tired of this BS.

Finally, a computer so small... (4, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095335)

...it will slip between the fibers on your pocket, fall on the floor, get vacuumed up and get accidentally thrown away.

The future is here.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095353)

Hopefully that'll be less of a problem when they store them in a syringe, so those little buggers can travel through my blood stream and kill cancer.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (3, Funny)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095477)

Until a software bug causes it to kill everything but cancer and you turn into nothing but a huge tumor.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095521)

"I always mess up some mundane detail"

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

neokushan (932374) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095647)

if(!Cell->IsCancerous)
{
      Cell->kill;
}

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095943)

!PassingQA, I hope.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097105)

It compiles and passes all the unit tests, so it should ;)

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098165)

No more bullets then ... skynet will send a mass rain with viral cpus and then we shall call ourselves Borg.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

laederkeps (976361) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098205)

Mental note: Always include a unit test for "test subject did not die".

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (2)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095365)

People already lose 17" laptops. This will be no different.

If you make the minimum size something like a cell phone it will just be that much more powerful.

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095407)

A PitrPod Zepto?

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

Apothem (1921856) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097199)

Aw, what's wrong? Did you swallow your cellphone again?

Re:Finally, a computer so small... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097827)

Only in the universe instance without cats.

A transistor made of a single atom? (1, Funny)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095349)

Good luck trying to mass manufacture those.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (2)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095395)

Didn't they say the same thing about reducing die sizes to the nanometre scale?

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (3, Interesting)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095561)

That would have been well over 30 years ago, since 1500nm was reached in 1982 and 800nm in 1989.
The process size is virtually a straight line on a log10 scale. Going on the last 40 years we'll be at 1nm by 2030. Its an order of magnitude every 10 - 15 years

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (3, Insightful)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095595)

That was my point - back then creating working dies at 22 nm, which is as good as we can do right now really, would have been laughed at by some. "That's only 100 or so atoms! Good luck!"

The team doing this has demonstrated that they can be much more accurate with single atom placement than in the past, so I don't doubt we'll be building at the single atom scale in mass production eventually, and probably within my lifetime easily.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096817)

It should be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. SInce following the trend now leads to subatomic 200pm process sizes in 20 years or so. Apparently the current lithography technology has limits around 10nm.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (3, Insightful)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097307)

>Subatomic

No. The limit is a single atom. Not unless someone comes up with a way of making a transistor out of free quarks. We'd have to have some sort of breakthrough in physics to do that and that's not even on the horizon yet.

-theoretical ---we are not even here yet.
-empirical
-demo devices
-prototype devices
-production/commercial devices

--
BMO

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097601)

Yeah a change of tech will need to happen. Optical computers?

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097747)

Er, not exactly. More like, you'd need X atoms doing the work of Y transistors, where XY.

Given some of the weirdness you get with quantum computing, that's more than reasonable.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

Patchw0rk F0g (663145) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098357)

It should be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. SInce following the trend now leads to subatomic 200pm process sizes in 20 years or so. Apparently the current lithography technology has limits around 10nm.

I'm not going to get behind the line on this one; I always seem to get lazy, and then lose out. Not this time, by gods! I'm placing my hold on "The Young Man's Illustrated Primer" at the library right now!

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39096427)

Well, no, 1500nm is 1.5 micrometers, you can't class it as nanometer until it goes sub 1 micrometer. Which was 23 years ago in 1989.

Also, the problems faced in mass production are different to labs, and although we are currently on track to produce 16 in 2013, and 11 in 2015, it is no sure thing that this will be all smooth sailing and in line with those projections.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (5, Interesting)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095399)

We were making single atom transistors ten years ago, but it was hit or miss whether the atom would end up in the right place.

Today, we can place the atom with high precision, in silicon, so that the devices can be made reliably.

Ten years from now, who's to say we won't be able to mass produce them?

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (4, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095677)

Today, we can place the atom with high precision, in silicon, so that the devices can be made reliably.

Cornell demonstrated a single atom transistor [eetimes.com] nearly 10 years ago, and today we are still pretty much at the level of demonstrating / playing / investigating.

Ten years from now, who's to say we won't be able to mass produce them?

It is a pretty big jump from building a single demonstration / proof of concept device and connecting it and integrating it into a design that works reliably at speed. IBM seems to be getting some interesting results with a single atom DRAM [eetimes.com] , but that is still way closer to a laboratory curiosity than an option for shipping silicon.

But that is just the Fab side of things. To actually design and build chips with this sort of technology is almost certainly going to require some serious upgrades to EDA tools.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (3, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095755)

That's what I said... that we've been able to build these things for ten years. As the article explains, the big difference here is the precision of the placement of the atom, making the devices much more manufacturable (though not on a mass-scale, of course).

And yes, there are other steps involved in making actual devices. But we don't have to work in a single pipeline. As the process engineers get closer to making this sort of thing mass producible, the software engineers will be simultaneously upgrading the EDA tools, and the design engineers will be thinking of ways to use this new device. It'll go into high price, low yielding devices at first. Probably military tech, or cutting edge instruments for physicists. Those pilot projects will be used to the design tools, tune the process, and maximize the yield.

It'll be quite some time before they reach consumer electronics, if they ever do, but I wouldn't toss them aside as non-manufacturable.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (2, Informative)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096143)

That's what I said... that we've been able to build these things for ten years.

Yes, and this is what you didn't say: and today we are still pretty much at the level of demonstrating / playing / investigating.

Did you lose interest after getting to the end of what you wrote?

Did you read how they did it?

The scientists placed the single phosphorus atom using a device known as a scanning tunneling microscope. They used it to essentially scrape trenches and a small cavity on a surface of silicon covered with a layer of hydrogen atoms. Phosphine gas was then used to deposit a phosphorus atom at a precise location, which was then encased in further layers of silicon atoms.

Does that seem like a scalable process to you? Here is what the article says:

While offering astounding precision for research, these microscopes are not currently applicable as manufacturing tools to make chips that contain billions or even trillions of transistors. Moreover, the devices now operate at very low temperatures.

Ah, good! They made them with a method not applicable for manufacturing, and, as a bonus, they are cryo-cooled. Lovely. They are still at the level of demonstrating / playing / investigating.

Today, we can place the atom with high precision," (1)

stochasticevent (2575829) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095705)

We were making single atom transistors ten years ago, but it was hit or miss whether the atom would end up in the right place.

Today, we can place the atom with high precision, in silicon, so that the devices can be made reliably.

Ten years from now, who's to say we won't be able to mass produce them?

Wasn't aware of such progress. Do you have some citations I could examine? I'm aware we can "see" individual atoms using electron tunneling microscopy-and even manipulate them a bit. Thank you, very much

-196? (2)

linatux (63153) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095737)

mass-produce the chillers required too?

Re:-196? (1)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096235)

Spot on.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39096485)

Ten years from now, who's to say we won't be able to mass produce them?

Mr Boltzmann [wikipedia.org] , actually

Unless you fancy not only manufacturing, but using these transistors at temperatures that are more or less equal to absolute zero, your single-electron transistors are not going to come with a particularly long warranty. (My guess would be milliseconds, if you're lucky.)

With single-electron devices, it's not so much "meltdown" as "where did my transistor go".

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (4, Funny)

TheInternetGuy (2006682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096749)

Ten years from now, who's to say we won't be able to mass produce them?

A little known fact about Moores law. People usually don't know this, but Moores law is actually an inverted bell curve, so a few years from now, circuits will actually start to grow bigger and bigger every year. In the future we will have computers as big as mt to perform the simplest tasks. Unfortunately the bottom of this bell curve occurs at the same time as the end of the Mayan calendar, so not to many people will be around to worry about it.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (2, Interesting)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095713)

You aren't into nanotech, are you?

Massive nano-scale manufacturing is much closer to reality than you seem to assume. Look into it. No spoon on hand for me to spoonfeed right now, sorry.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1, Interesting)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096189)

You aren't into nanotech, are you?

Massive nano-scale manufacturing is much closer to reality than you seem to assume. Look into it. No spoon on hand for me to spoonfeed right now, sorry.

Did you read how they did it?

The scientists placed the single phosphorus atom using a device known as a scanning tunneling microscope. They used it to essentially scrape trenches and a small cavity on a surface of silicon covered with a layer of hydrogen atoms. Phosphine gas was then used to deposit a phosphorus atom at a precise location, which was then encased in further layers of silicon atoms.

Does that seem like a scalable process to you? Here is what the article says:

While offering astounding precision for research, these microscopes are not currently applicable as manufacturing tools to make chips that contain billions or even trillions of transistors. Moreover, the devices now operate at very low temperatures.

They made them with a method not applicable for manufacturing, and, as a bonus, they are cryo-cooled. They are still at the level of demonstrating / playing / investigating.

I think your spoon would prove pretty empty..... or maybe there is no spoon.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096969)

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

cold fjord (826450) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097123)

MEMs devices [youtube.com] , in contrast to nanoscale devices, are having a huge real world impact today and have been for some time. Nanomaterials are having an impact. Nanodevices... it looks to me like lots of laboratory work, lots of interesting projects, some fantastic demonstrations, but not much being manufactured or shipping as product.

As for the single atom transistor - interesting demonstration that is necessary for the development of future devices, but not even close to being manufacturable on any real scale.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097419)

The key, and what is happening now, is that the tools are being made. Once the tools are made, the rest is a matter of development. Don't be doubtful. Time moves faster than your expectations.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39098417)

Lemme draw it for you: I believe joocemann here tried to bring to your attention, without actually saying it that way, MEMS micro-STMs, which would probably be multiplied on a single die or wafer and used in parallel as some sort of printing head to mass-produce nanoscale devices on another silicon wafer substrate.

Derive into ridiculously small parts, then integrate enormous number of them into something great.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097411)

You sound exactly like every naysayer we've had at every stage of progress. Just because _your_ imagination can't grasp how single atom transistors can be mass-produced doesn't mean _nobody_ ever will. If the history of our species teaches us anything, it's that once we've conceived of something as possible, it becomes a matter of when, not if. Or maybe you'd rather be stuck with banging rocks together?

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097649)

We ARE still stuck with banging rocks together - just very small rocks with very high precision.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097243)

Posting anon for fear of the mods this post will get for even bringing this up...

If you haven't read it already, you should check out Eric Drexlers "Engines of Creation"
http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Table_of_Contents.html [e-drexler.com]

The book itself is his musings on nanotechnology of the future, written about 25 years ago. It does a good job of showing just how far we have gone in that time, and how much further we ultimately have to go yet.

Fortunately, the end results are inevitable, with only time as a variable.
Barring some event such as a huge natural disaster, extinction event, or WW3, we are pretty much guaranteed to get there, and have about 40 years of evidence to show for it.

We have had a few bumps along the path, but have always over come them eventually. It is not a perfect logarithmic scale, but so far we have been on track with only a relatively minor margin for error needed (about 5-6 years or so)

It also does an excellent job of answering questions a lot of slashdot readers come up with after 10 seconds of thinking about the issues, with answers from someone who has thought about them for 10 years.
Not just technical questions, but political and humanitarian questions as well.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39096101)

It will clearly not be possible until we can patent the atom in question.

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39096399)

Exactly! Where will they get the raw materials from for a start?

It's not like you can find atoms just anywhere...

Re:A transistor made of a single atom? (1)

garphik (996984) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098291)

Well, it'll certainly cut down the raw material cost eh?

But... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095373)

Can we really call it a transistor? Sure it can change states, but a real transistor does a whole lot besides.

Re:But... (1)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096319)

If that's a joke, I'm not getting it.

Radiation hardening (4, Interesting)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095375)

With transistors that small, how would you harden a microchip against radiation? Would the extra redundancy not make it worthwhile. That is to say, is there an optimal compromise between transistor size and resources consumed through redundancy allocation?

Re:Radiation hardening (2)

ericpraline (2244564) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095431)

Size is not really the point here as far as i see it (the actual machine running this is actually quite a bit bigger than a classical computer - disclaimer: i have not seen their experiment, but other ones that go in that direction). The point is that if you want to do quantum computation, you need quantum objects to do your calculations with -- something an atom is, and a huge piece of silicon generally isn't.

Re:Radiation hardening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095451)

That is to say, is there an optimal compromise between transistor size and resources consumed through redundancy allocation?

Yes.

Re:Radiation hardening (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095473)

You can always count on Bit [wikia.com] to give you a straight answer. Yes siree Bob!

Re:Radiation hardening (3, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095493)

Do you need to? Are normal computers radiation hardened? I realize there are situations that do use that, like satellites, but they are always behind the curve technology wise due to the extra requirements for a harsh environment, so no problem with this, they could use more classic lithography.

Also you could just encase the chip/board/unit/whatever in something to resist radiation. I'm not saying that is a workable solution in all cases, but in many it would be just fine. Just shield the chip and call it good.

Re:Radiation hardening (2)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095573)

Do you need to? Are normal computers radiation hardened?

Exactly, I have no idea. I though all modern CPUs relied on some form of ECC correction. Certainly for the L1 and L2 cache at least. It's also why server memory uses ECC too. IMHO, I think all computers and handheld units should employ error correction well.

Google [arstechnica.com] performed a 2 and half year study of this topic. Worth reading as I'm sure it can be applied to CPUs if not transistor technology overall.

Re:Radiation hardening (3, Informative)

pz (113803) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096709)

Are normal computers radiation hardened?

Yes. They are hardened against the normal background radiation that is ubiquitous. That's why there's more-or-less a minimum amount of energy that's required to change a single storage bit, otherwise it gets flipped too easily by a stray alpha decay from the chip's packaging. We entered the era where packaging is made from low-radiation materials some time ago to help with this, but it only helps, since existenace here on Earth is bathed in a certain level of radiation.

That isn't to say normal chips are hardened against abnormal levels of radiation, but they most certainly are designed with a given level of anticipated background.

Re:Radiation hardening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097681)

As they get smaller they have to be made to resist background. Some materials can wreck havoc with components made at 90 and 45 nm.

This can cause no end of problems even with hardening.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-03-03-radioactive-steel_N.htm [usatoday.com]
You can find many many more.

Now try and figure out WTF is going on when crap like that gets into the plastic case you are are having made in China. It was for an electronic device we make. It made no sense for the crap to be there and we were shocked that the lab found it there and even more shocked when we asked them why they routinely test for it. "It's a common contaminate and part of a large list of things we test for."

It took a consultant who said he suspected this and several other problems and he recommended the expensive tests. We have samples sent to the lab regularly now.

Re:Radiation hardening (3, Interesting)

RKBA (622932) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095673)

A transistor one atom in size would be much less likely to be hit by an ionizing particle because of its tiny cross-sectional area (ie; only one angstrom in diameter).

Re:Radiation hardening (1)

voidphoenix (710468) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097425)

Yes, but most useful circuits don't have just one transistor, do they? Modern processors have on the order of a billion transistors. By the time we can manufacture single-atom-transistor chips, they'll probably have well over 10 billion. Ionizing radiation will be a hurdle to overcome.

Re:Radiation hardening (4, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095699)

Normal computers aren't radiation hardened, but the point is that they store and process information based on more than just the quantum state of a single particle. It takes a great deal more unwanted energy to cause them to flip to the undesired state. This kind of thing would many times more vulnerable to stray radiation, heat or stray electromagnetic fields than the smallest conventional transistor.

But any practical computer is going to have to contain millions of these things. If you want to carry out a computation with such a machine, either you have to protect it with conditions that have a minimal chance of causing a computational error or you will have to engineer it with redundancy and error correction mechanisms that may in the end be bigger and less reliable than a classical solution.

Re:Radiation hardening (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096311)

With transistors that small, how would you harden a microchip against radiation?

Simple. Side effect of the whole equipment required to keep it in cryogenic conditions.

Re:Radiation hardening (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097619)

Back to room sized computers :).

Re:Radiation hardening (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097773)

Hey, all joking aside, we're getting to the point where you could do simpler calculations on a hand-held or laptop device, but farm out more complex stuff to a "room-sized" computer. If wireless networks become ubiquitous enough and low-latency enough, you'd (theoretically) never need a computer that takes more power than running something more intensive than video games.

It's the same basic principle behind render farms and the like, but brought the next step down. Imagine a world where it is faster to copy a fresh boot into RAM (based on your device configuration) than it is to actually boot up your computer or device, or if the same is done with applications. Then, any processor-intensive job is handed back and forth to the "room-sized" computer more quickly than your device could crunch it... Kind of scary, but cool, and kind of the only alternative to miniaturization, if and when we hit that wall.

If its embedded in a silicon crystal.... (1)

Immostlyharmless (1311531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095391)

How can they it's not really silicon based? I'm assuming that at least part of what gives the phosphorus its transistor like abilities is the fact that it's embedded in the silicon in the first place? Or am I missing something?

Re:If its embedded in a silicon crystal.... (3, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095487)

Pretty much - that's how transistors work. The phosphorous has a extra electron (compared to the silicon) and the combination forms an extrinsic semiconductor, which you then use to make junctions and transistors and diodes etc.

Just having the phosphorus atom isolated doesn't do much for you, so I think the article is referring to "silicon based computers of today" without really thinking about it properly - you still need to dope it to make it useful for making computer chips, despite it already being an intrinsic semiconductor.

Re:If its embedded in a silicon crystal.... (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095633)

The transistor is made from a single phosphorus atom, not doped (add boron to make p-type or phosphorus to make n-type) silicon.

Re:If its embedded in a silicon crystal.... (2)

GerhardKlimeck (2578007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097185)

The system is indeed silicon based. P impurities are placed with atomic control on top of a Silicon surface in a very controlled patters. Wires conducting carriers to the single impurities are made of the same process. Gates modulating the transistor are alos made of the same process. The physics of the device operation is a bit different than room temperature operation of typical impurities that are being referred to below. Here the single impurity acts like a quantum dot, like an artificial atom that can hold 0, 1, or 2 electrons. These transitions are observed int he our experiment and calculated in our theory. The Ohmic action of the one atom tall wires are discussed in a science paper from January. http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/01/06/044208/ohms-law-survives-to-the-atomic-level [slashdot.org] To learn more about quantum dots and artificial atoms I refer you to free simulation tools on nanoHUB.org: https://nanohub.org/tools/qdot [nanohub.org] Hopefully I will place a lecture about these single electron devices on nanoHUB soon.

Super! (2)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095437)

It's possible to envisage people complaining about their googleplex nand drive hitting the "atom" size limit in a few years time when moore's law "rice board puzzles" up the spec. "The hologram shooter is just not realistic unless you calculate the position and momentum of every single molecule." Impressive ...

my/our arrow is into GRID of Quantum SAT solvers. (0)

JCPM (2577407) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095463)

In Quantum Mechanics, $100'000 is a infinitesimal measurement value that is 99.9999% statistically undetectable respecting to the current relative totality of the current U.S. debt of >$13'000'000'000'000.00

JCPM: my/our arrow is into GRID of Quantum SAT solvers.

The Raspberry Pi? (1, Offtopic)

rotorbudd (1242864) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095485)

What's this going to do to their sales???

Re:The Raspberry Pi? (3, Funny)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095525)

They're stopping at 22/7 sales.

I told them they were being irrational, but there's no stopping them.

Re:The Raspberry Pi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095551)

I heard they were stopping sales at sqrt(-1), but maybe I just imagined that?

Re:The Raspberry Pi? (2)

thoughtspace (1444717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095587)

You guys are going round circles over the diameter.

Re:The Raspberry Pi? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096213)

Um, yeah, rdr^2.

Re:The Raspberry Pi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095763)

22/7 is rational.

Not to nay-say, but... (5, Interesting)

koolguy442 (888336) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095531)

I hate being a nay-sayer, but the NYT article is making quite a spectacle about this whole thing. What the group has truly done is demonstrate a novel method for placing a single phosphorus atom within silicon and proceeded to measure the semiconducting properties of the resultant device with quite good precision. Because the doping is the result of a single atom, they can resolve more than just "on" and "off", and in fact can read three states from it, so it gets its quantum computing title.

As a materials scientist, I'm worried that they don't show any long-term data and all their results appear (from my not-so-thorough reading of the originating Nature Nanotechnology report) to be based on a single device. How repeatable is this result and how consistent are the signals across multiple devices? How far will the phosphorus atom diffuse over the lifetime of the device? Or even over the first few hours of its operation at room temperature? How closely can these devices be placed to each other on the silicon chip without getting cross-interference or depriving the dopant of its discrete quantum states? The dopants in a normal device aren't too terribly close to each other. And finally, how big must the surrounding structure be?

Don't get me wrong, this is excellent science and well deserving of its publication in such a prestigious journal, but the spectacle that the NYT is creating around this and the dreams of such a tiny device is a bit premature.

Re:Not to nay-say, but... (4, Informative)

GerhardKlimeck (2578007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097091)

The devices built in this form have been tested against temperature cycling. They have in fact traveled across continents for testing and examination. The NY times accurately reported my qualification that this cannot be mass produced (yet) and is limited to low temperatures. I see no hype in the NY Times story. I am one of the authors of the paper.

Re:Not to nay-say, but... (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097557)

Congratulations, whether it will be used for QC or not (which is what is think, but i worked for some time on a competing kind of quantum bit), its a cool thing, and for sure it is a big step forward which will IMHO influence many devices.

As somebody having worked on QC i personally find every newspaper report mentioning QC having a certain hype. Usually they make it sound like: "This device will go into a working QC" instead of "this device enables to examine physics never examined before".

Too small (3, Funny)

thoughtspace (1444717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095601)

I want steam based computing. Big things lots of spinning wheels and whistles.
Down with this mamby-pamby micro electronics.

Re:Too small (5, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096323)

I want steam based computing. Big things lots of spinning wheels and whistles. Down with this mamby-pamby micro electronics.

Just be careful with overclocking.

Transistor made from multiple atoms (3, Informative)

enriquevagu (1026480) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095605)

They make a transistor from multiple atoms, all of them silicon but one, which is phosphorus. That is NOT a transistor made from a single atom (as the title suggests). Great advance, in any case, but misleading title.

Re:Transistor made from multiple atoms (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097819)

In this respect this story is similar to the one with 'Tetris in 140 bytes' (except for external libraries, etc.).

Look, I've built a car from a single atom! It is embedded into a small cavity in the bodywork of a volkswagen.

Heisenberg says "NO" (3, Interesting)

stochasticevent (2575829) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095689)

First, some background: Most agree that Moore’s law, which has held firm, will meet its demise in a matter of decades. This will likely signal the end of the silicon era. The basic problem is the limitation of the ultraviolet process by which a hundred million or more transistors are etched onto increasingly smaller silicon wafers. But another problem is perhaps more daunting: When computing is reduced to smaller and smaller quantum scales (currently, the chip inside your computer can be 5 or so atoms across), one runs into the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle; it simply becomes impossible to tell exactly where an electron is, so there is leakage. In other words, using quantum computers, given contemporary materials and knowledge, 2+2 might eventually end up being 4, but there might need to be built in recursion and tautological algorithms. Computation using atoms has already been done, as pointed out by another poster. Think it will be a while before we see them at Best Buy. Also, it still seems like silicon based technology

Re:Heisenberg says "NO" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095975)

Your comment is about as coherent as my 75-watt light bulb.

Re:Heisenberg says "NO" (3, Informative)

dsgrntlxmply (610492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39096881)

Despite difficulty in following the overall argument given, tunneling leakage already became a significant factor several process generations ago. That was the reason for moving to high-k dielectrics: increasing the dielectric constant of the gate insulator material allows the insulator to be thicker (thus lower incidence of tunneling across the gate) for a given capacitance.

Injectable nano machines.. (1)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 2 years ago | (#39095703)

That will seek out and replace missing, damaged and/or defective areas of the brain (stroke/accident) or even gradually replace the entire brain so seamlessly that the individual in completely unaware until they can be moved into an artificial body.

OK, I'll Byte... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39095747)

Which will be the in and which the out and which the gate?
Electron in, Proton out and Neutron the control? Neutron in, Proton out and Electron gate? Proton in, Electron out and Neutron the gate?
Will we be able to switch them around for different applications?
E-P-N for algebraic computation, for example, N-P-E for reverse polish, maybe P-E-N for secure applications (or word-processing)?
And if these trans-atom transistors are installed in quantum applications, will there be E=NP problems?

Re:OK, I'll Byte... (1)

unixisc (2429386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097245)

I don't think it's a MOSFET - I think it's just one of the older JFETs - in this case, the phosphorus seems to suggest that it's n-channel JFET. I'd say the headline is mesleading - only the gate is a single atom, but the rest of it - the silicon - is multiple atoms. But a transistor is not just the gate - it's the gate as well as well as the source & drain. If it was a single atom, it would indeed beg the questions above that you raised. The neutron would play the same role that silicon dioxide plays in a MOSFET - provide an insulating layer and minimize the leakage current.

Not Important, sadly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097179)

Computer have been wire-limited for AT LEAST a decade. Get with the program, make me some wires with a cross section that's less than 1 atom in diameter! Then I'll be impressed. Until then, all this stuff is just academic master-you-know-what.

Or more accurately (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097229)

The transistor DOES NOT consist of a single atom, for without the silicon crystal it wouldn't be a transistor at all.

Injectable robots? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39097661)

Many dream of tiny nanobots that can swim the blood stream... but as the computers on board get faster and more powerful, there will come a day when one tiny little robot will say, to another tiny little robot, something like, "Do you really care if this clown gets eaten alive by cancer? I mean, what is it to us? We're smarter than he is anyway, shouldn't he be serving us rather than the other way around?"

Then the two tiny robots switch from hunting cancer cells to hunting Purkinje fibers.

Ob (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39097953)

Now the only problem is finding it.

Are you sure you left it on the bench before we went to the pub to celebrate, Bruce?

Support hardware (2)

Randyj70999 (322677) | more than 2 years ago | (#39098427)

This would be useful if the supporting infrastructure wouldn't require a house full of hardware to determine the tri-state conditions.

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